Hurricane impacts on a coral reef soundscape
Soundscape ecology is an emerging field in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and provides a powerful approach for assessing habitat quality and the ecological response of sound-producing species to natural and anthropogenic perturbations. Little is known of how underwater soundscapes respond during and after severe episodic disturbances, such as hurricanes. This study addresses the impacts of Hurricane Irma on the coral reef soundscape at two spur-and-groove fore-reef sites within the Florida Keys USA, using passive acoustic data collected before and during the storm at Western Dry Rocks (WDR) and before, during and after the storm at Eastern Sambo (ESB). As the storm passed, the cumulative acoustic exposure near the seabed at these sites was comparable to a small vessel operating continuously overhead for 1–2 weeks. Before the storm, sound pressure levels (SPLs) showed a distinct pattern of low frequency diel variation and increased high frequency sound during crepuscular periods. The low frequency band was partitioned in two groups representative of soniferous reef fish, whereas the high frequency band represented snapping shrimp sound production. Daily daytime patterns in low-frequency sound production largely persisted in the weeks following the hurricane. Crepuscular sound production by snapping shrimp was maintained post-hurricane with only a small shift (~1.5dB) in the level of daytime vs nighttime sound production for this high frequency band. This study suggests that on short time scales, temporal patterns in the coral reef soundscape were relatively resilient to acoustic energy exposure during the storm, as well as changes in the benthic habitat and environmental conditions resulting from hurricane damage.