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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 714:87-104 (2023)  -  DOI:

Sensitive aerial hearing within a noisy nesting soundscape in a deep-diving seabird, the common murre Uria aalge

Adam B. Smith1,2,*, Iris Fischer-McMorrow3,4, Yann Kolbeinsson5, Marianne Rasmussen6, Michelle R. Shero2, Jim N. McElwaine7, Owen R. Jones1, T. Aran Mooney2

1Marine Research Centre, University of Southern Denmark, 4300 Kerteminde, Denmark
2Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
3Merck Animal Health, Madison, NJ 07940, USA
4School of Arts and Sciences, Colby-Sawyer College, New London, NH 03257, USA
5Northeast Iceland Nature Research Centre, 640 Húsavík, Iceland
6The University of Iceland’s Research Center in Húsavík, 640 Húsavík, Iceland
7Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Diving seabirds face a combination of sound exposure in marine and terrestrial environments due to increasing human encroachment on coastal ecosystems. Yet the sound-sensitivity and sensory ecology of this threatened group of animals is largely unknown, complicating effective management and conservation. Here, we characterize aspects of the acoustic ecology of the common murre Uria aalge, one of the deepest diving alcid seabirds. Electrophysiological aerial hearing thresholds were measured for 12 wild, nesting individuals and compared to conspecific vocalizations and short-term aerial soundscape dynamics of their cliff nesting habitat. Auditory responses were measured from 0.5 to 6 kHz, with a lowest mean threshold of 30 dB at 2 kHz and generally sensitive hearing from 1 to 3.5 kHz. The short-term murre nesting soundscape contained biotic sounds from con- and heterospecific avifauna; broadband sounds levels of 56-69 dB re: 20 µPa rms (0.1-10 kHz) were associated with both diel and tidal-cycle factors. Five murre vocalization types showed dominant spectral emphasis at or below the region of best hearing. Common murre hearing appears to be less sensitive than a related alcid, the Atlantic puffin Fratercula arctica, but more sensitive than other non-alcid diving birds described to date, suggesting that adaptations for deep diving have not caused a loss of the species’ hearing ability above water. Overall, frequencies of common murre hearing and vocalization overlap with many anthropogenic noise sources, indicating that the species is susceptible to disturbance from a range of noise types.

KEY WORDS: Hearing · Noise · Soundscape · Seabird · Sensory ecology · Stress · Wildlife

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Cite this article as: Smith AB, Fischer-McMorrow I, Kolbeinsson Y, Rasmussen M and others (2023) Sensitive aerial hearing within a noisy nesting soundscape in a deep-diving seabird, the common murre Uria aalge. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 714:87-104.

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