How do sounds affect the settlement of marine larvae?

Researchers recorded underwater soundscapes to monitor the health of those ecosystems.

Vocabulary: coral reef, soundscape, ecosystem, frequency, ambient

Next Generation Science Standards: SEP3: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience, this Spoonful can be used to build towards HS-LS2–2 and HS-LS2–7.

Common Core State Standards: Citing textual evidence (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9–10.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11–12.1)

Aran Mooney installing an acoustic recorder on the Olowalu reef. Credit: Eden Zang

Swimming through the clear waters near a coral reef can be a calm, serene experience for a scuba diver. But if you listen closely, the coral soundscape is a noisy mix of feeding fish, the clicks of snapping shrimp, and ocean currents. In a study out this week in Scientific Reports, scientists recorded these rackety habitats to see how far their sounds carried in the currents. Max Kaplan, lead author on the study, discusses how fish use these sounds to find suitable habitats, and how the recordings could help scientists monitor the health of these underwater ecosystems.

Audio Excerpt “Reeling in the Coral Reef Soundscape” Sept. 2, 2016. (Original Segment)

Print this segment transcript.

Access some of Max Kaplan’s sounds here.

Questions for Students

  • Max Kaplan is able to identify organisms from the sounds he recorded. How do you think he is able to pair an organism with each sound? What other data or observations would you need in order to develop that ability to identify organisms by sound?
  • Many people get water in their ears when they go underwater. They also cannot usually hear clearly. Describe the adaptations that allow fish to hear sounds underwater. Try to draw some of the mechanisms for hearing that Max Kaplan describes.
  • Max Kaplan used soundscapes of reefs, over long periods of time, to determine whether a reef was healthy. What are some other ideas for places we can study using data from soundscapes?
  • Sounds from human activities are reducing the “active space of communication” in these reefs and in commercial shipping channels. How would you propose to improve the “active space of communication” for marine organisms, while still allowing for human activities like shipping? Think about solutions at different levels, is it a policy change, a human behavior change, a new invention, etc.

Activity Suggestions

  • Introduce your students to bioacoustics with an activity where they investigate the relationship between a person’s size and the pitch of their burp with this Burping Bioacoustics activity.
  • Max Kaplan recorded reef soundscapes. Use his research on reefs and other research on underwater sound to set up an activity on the transmission of sound through different mediums. For more ideas, look at this resource on ocean acoustics.
  • Have students analyze soundscapes that they collect from around their community using their smart devices or recording equipment. Have them try to identify the origin of different sounds. They can even analyze those sound files on a software like Audacity for pitch.