The sound of recovery: coral reef restoration success is detectable in the soundscape.

Published online
14 Jun 2022
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Lamont, T. A. C. & Williams, B. & Chapuis, L. & Prasetya, M. E. & Seraphim, M. J. & Harding, H. R. & May, E. B. & Janetski, N. & Jompa, J. & Smith, D. J. & Radford, A. N. & Simpson, S. D.
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Pantropical degradation of coral reefs is prompting considerable investment in their active restoration. However, current measures of restoration success are based largely on coral cover, which does not fully reflect ecosystem function or reef health. Soundscapes are an important aspect of reef health; loud and diverse soundscapes guide the recruitment of reef organisms, but this process is compromised when degradation denudes soundscapes. As such, acoustic recovery is a functionally important component of ecosystem recovery. Here, we use acoustic recordings taken at one of the world's largest coral reef restoration projects to test whether successful restoration of benthic and fish communities is accompanied by a restored soundscape. We analyse recordings taken simultaneously on healthy, degraded (extensive historic blast fishing) and restored reefs (restoration carried out for 1-3 years on previously degraded reefs). We compare soundscapes using manual counts of biotic sounds (phonic richness), and two commonly used computational analyses (acoustic complexity index [ACI] and sound-pressure level [SPL]). Healthy and restored reef soundscapes exhibited a similar diversity of biotic sounds (phonic richness), which was significantly higher than degraded reef soundscapes. This pattern was replicated in some automated analyses but not others; the ACI exhibited the same qualitative result as phonic richness in a low-frequency, but not a high-frequency bandwidth, and there was no significant difference between SPL values in either frequency bandwidth. Furthermore, the low-frequency ACI and phonic richness scores were only weakly correlated despite showing a qualitatively equivalent overall result, suggesting that these metrics are likely to be driven by different aspects of the reef soundscape. Synthesis and applications. These data show that coral restoration can lead to soundscape recovery, demonstrating the return of an important ecosystem function. They also suggest that passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) might provide functionally important measures of ecosystem-level recovery-but only some PAM metrics reflect ecological status, and those that did are likely to be driven by different communities of soniferous animals. Recording soundscapes represents a potentially valuable tool for evaluating restoration success across ecosystems, but caution must be exercised when choosing metrics and interpreting results.

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