The acoustic ecology of submerged macrophytes
MetadataShow full item record
Underwater acoustics has recently emerged as a viable tool for assessing ecosystem health and exploring the estuarine soundscape. Recent acoustic surveys have mapped distributions of both seagrass meadows and kelp forests, and scientists are currently developing remote sensing capabilities to improve ecological assessments of these communities. Furthermore, researchers are beginning to focus on the propagation and ecological significance of bioacoustic signals within estuarine landscapes. The research presented here includes a thorough examination of the interaction of acoustic energy and macrophyte tissue as it pertains to habitat assessment and ecosystem function. Modeling experiments investigated the interaction of acoustic energy and submerged macrophyte tissue. Both seagrasses and kelp exhibited a similar acoustic response by increasing the acoustic compressibility of a seawater medium. The increase in acoustic compressibility was driven by free-gas volumes contained within the macrophyte tissue. Interestingly, the tissue served to limit the acoustic compressibility of the gas volume below the magnitude predicted by effective medium models. Separate inquiries of high-frequency sound propagation and the seagrass canopy revealed a significant temporal component to acoustic transmission. Specifically, sound transmission throughout a seagrass canopy was altered by the formation of free gas bubbles and the pressurization of aerenchyma channels, which was mediated by photosynthesis. The photosynthetic controls on sound propagation were species-specific, and patterns of acoustic transmission provided a reasonable proxy for gross primary production in Syringodium filiforme plants. Finally, the interaction of sound energy and submerged macrophytes appears to have important ecological implications. This research suggests that seagrass meadows scatter high-frequency sound energy and provide an acoustic refuge to fish from marine mammal predators. This refuge is highly seasonal, specific to different seagrass species and dependent on the abundance of above-ground biomass. Seagrasses also may influence the transmission of low-frequency sounds used by soniferous fish. Propagation characteristics of low-frequency sounds are highly dependent on frequency and result in differential transmission distances among individual fish species. It is clear from this body of work that submerged macrophytes are an important feature of the underwater soundscape. Future research should continue to exploit this feature for remote sensing purposes and examine its ecological significance.