Uncovering spatial variation in acoustic environments using sound mapping

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Abstract

Animals select and use habitats based on environmental features relevant to their ecology and behavior. For animals that use acoustic communication, the sound environment itself may be a critical feature, yet acoustic characteristics are not commonly measured when describing habitats and as a result, how habitats vary acoustically over space and time is poorly known. Such considerations are timely, given worldwide increases in anthropogenic noise combined with rapidly accumulating evidence that noise hampers the ability of animals to detect and interpret natural sounds. Here, we used microphone arrays to record the sound environment in three terrestrial habitats (forest, prairie, and urban) under ambient conditions and during experimental noise introductions. We mapped sound pressure levels (SPLs) over spatial scales relevant to diverse taxa to explore spatial variation in acoustic habitats and to evaluate the number of microphones needed within arrays to capture this variation under both ambient and noisy conditions. Even at small spatial scales and over relatively short time spans, SPLs varied considerably, especially in forest and urban habitats, suggesting that quantifying and mapping acoustic features could improve habitat descriptions. Subset maps based on input from 4, 8, 12 and 16 microphones differed slightly (< 2 dBA/pixel) from those based on full arrays of 24 microphones under ambient conditions across habitats. Map differences were more pronounced with noise introductions, particularly in forests; maps made from only 4-microphones differed more (> 4 dBA/pixel) from full maps than the remaining subset maps, but maps with input from eight microphones resulted in smaller differences. Thus, acoustic environments varied over small spatial scales and variation could be mapped with input from 4-8 microphones. Mapping sound in different environments will improve understanding of acoustic environments and allow us to explore the influence of spatial variation in sound on animal ecology and behavior.

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Job, J. R., Myers, K., Naghshineh, K., & Gill, S. A. (2016). Uncovering spatial variation in acoustic environments using sound mapping. PLoS ONE, 11(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0159883

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