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Soundscapes indicate kelp forest condition

Benjamin L. Gottesman*, Joshua Sprague, David J. Kushner, Kristen Bellisario, David Savage, Megan F. McKenna, David L. Conlin, Eva DiDonato, Mary Jo Barkaszi, Michele Halvorsen, Bryan Pijanowski

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Soundscapes are promising indicators of marine habitat condition, yet this approach remains untested in many ecosystems and soundscape-ecological relationships remain unclear. In this study, we analyzed soundscapes in kelp forest habitats off the coast of California, USA, in Channel Islands National Park. We investigated if 1) soundscape features correlated with ecological variables and 2) these features differed inside and outside of marine protected areas (MPAs). We recorded one minute every fifteen minutes at five sites from May 12–June 23, 2018. Three sites were in MPAs with high kelp cover and low urchin density, while two were in adjacent, unprotected habitats with low kelp cover and high urchin density. To analyze the data, we calculated soundscape features using detection algorithms and acoustic indices, which we then correlated with annual ecological data from 2016–2018. We found that drivers of regime shifts in kelp forests—sea urchin density, kelp cover, and fish diversity—significantly related to soundscape features. Sea urchin density positively correlated and kelp cover negatively correlated with the rate of shrimp snaps. Fish species richness and abundance were positively correlated with the intensity and diel dynamics in the low-frequency bands that contained most fish vocalizations. This study demonstrates that marine soundscapes indicate the condition of kelp forests, which are vulnerable to destruction from urchin overgrazing. If marine soundscapes can reliably indicate the status of ecological drivers, then this approach could be a valuable complement to diver surveys in fully assessing marine ecosystem health.