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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Variable and spatially explicit response of fish larvae to the playback of local, continuous reef soundscapes

Justin J. Suca*, Ashlee Lillis, Ian T. Jones, Maxwell B. Kaplan, Andrew R. Solow, Alexis Diana Earl, Sennai Habtes, Amy Apprill, Joel K. Llopiz, T. Aran Mooney

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Understanding the cues that drive larval fish settlement is critical for managing reef systems under stress. Reef sound is increasingly reported to influence fish recruitment yet the physical and acoustic environment in which larval fish settle varies in space and time. Accordingly, testing potential settlement cues under different conditions is vital for understanding their ecological importance. We conducted two sets of field playback experiments in St. John, US Virgin Islands, one nearshore (10 m depth) and the second ‘offshore’ (25 m depth) to assess the effects of reef soundscape playback on settlement rates of multiple reef fish families. In each experiment, nightly currents were quantified and we replicated the diel soundscape cycle using high, low, and control (silent) amplitude recordings from nearby reefs. The first experiment revealed significant current-based, down-stream reduction in larval fish catches in subsurface light traps and a significant effect of increasing amplitude of reef playbacks on larval lizardfish (Synodontidae) catches. In the second, offshore experiment which had no current effect, increasing reef playback amplitude led to a significantly greater catch of parrotfish (Scaridae) larvae and decreased larval pelagic fish catch. Total reef fish larvae only showed attraction to reef playbacks at the most nearshore site. This work demonstrates that while sound can play a role in the settlement of certain reef fishes, responses are influenced by multiple factors, including larger-scale physical processes, underscoring the need to consider the scale of soundscape cues for reef fish settlement within an oceanographic context.