The origins of ambient biological sound from coral reef ecosystems in the Line Islands archipelago

J Acoust Soc Am. 2014 Apr;135(4):1775-88. doi: 10.1121/1.4865922.


Although ambient biological underwater sound was first characterized more than 60 years ago, attributing specific components of ambient sound to their creators remains a challenge. Noise produced by snapping shrimp typically dominates the ambient spectra near tropical coasts, but significant unexplained spectral variation exists. Here, evidence is presented indicating that a discernible contribution to the ambient sound field over coral reef ecosystems in the Line Islands archipelago originates from the interaction of hard-shelled benthic macro-organisms with the coral substrate. Recordings show a broad spectral peak centered between 14.30 and 14.63 kHz, incoherently added to a noise floor typically associated with relatively "white" snapping shrimp sounds. A 4.6 to 6.2 dB increase of pressure spectral density level in the 11 to 17 kHz band occurs simultaneously with an increase in benthic invertebrate activity at night, quantified through time-lapse underwater photography. Spectral-level-filtered recordings of hermit crabs Clibanarius diugeti in quiet aquarium conditions reveal that transient sounds produced by the interaction between the crustaceans' carapace, shell, and coral substrate are spectrally consistent with Line Islands recordings. Coral reef ecosystems are highly interconnected and subtle yet important ecological changes may be detected quantitatively through passive monitoring that utilizes the acoustic byproducts of biological activity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustics
  • Animals
  • Coral Reefs*
  • Crustacea / physiology*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Motion
  • Pressure
  • Seawater
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Sound*
  • Time Factors