MEPS - Vol. 505 - FEATURE ARTICLE

Sound-producing organisms create a distinct oyster reef soundscape. Illustration: Tanya L. Rogers

Lillis A, Eggleston DB, Bohnenstiehl DR


Estuarine soundscapes: distinct acoustic characteristics of oyster reefs compared to soft-bottom habitats

Soundscapes, the combination of biotic and abiotic sounds that form an acoustic environment, have the potential to convey rich sensory information underwater. Despite their possible importance to a range of ecological processes, most coastal and estuarine soundscape patterns have not been characterized. Lillis and co-workers quantified acoustic patterns of subtidal oyster reef and off-reef soft bottom habitats to investigate the relationship between soundscape and habitat type. Oyster reefs were consistently found to have distinct acoustic characteristics, including higher levels of sound in frequencies associated with reef-dwelling fish and invertebrates, compared to adjacent soft bottoms. Estuarine soundscapes may be a reliable, localized indicator of benthic habitat type and could influence orientation, settlement and habitat selection for a variety of reef-seeking organisms.

(a) Oyster reef recording

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(b) Off-reef soft bottom recording

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Audio description
10-second sound clips representative of habitat-related soundscapes. Audio was recorded concurrently at sites 1 km apart in Pamlico Sound, NC, USA. (a) Oyster reef recording, (b) Off-reef soft bottom recording. Credit: Ashlee Lillis


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