The Importance of Ambient Sound Level to Characterise Anuran Habitat

Abstract : Habitat characterisation is a pivotal step of any animal ecology study. The choice of variables used to describe habitats is crucial and need to be relevant to the ecology and behaviour of the species, in order to reflect biologically meaningful distribution patterns. In many species, acoustic communication is critical to individuals' interactions, and it is expected that ambient acoustic conditions impact their local distribution. Yet, classic animal ecology rarely integrates an acoustic dimension in habitat descriptions. Here we show that ambient sound pressure level (SPL) is a strong predictor of calling site selection in acoustically active frog species. In comparison to six other habitat-related variables (i.e. air and water temperature, depth, width and slope of the stream, substrate), SPL had the most important explanatory power in microhabitat selection for the 34 sampled species. Ambient noise was particularly useful in differentiating two stream-associated guilds: torrents and calmer streams dwelling species. Guild definitions were strongly supported by SPL, whereas slope, which is commonly used in stream-associated habitat, had a weak explanatory power. Moreover, slope measures are non-standardized across studies and are difficult to assess at small scale. We argue that including an acoustic descriptor will improve habitat-species analyses for many acoustically active taxa. SPL integrates habitat topology and temporal information (such as weather and hour of the day, for example) and is a simple and precise measure. We suggest that habitat description in animal ecology should include an acoustic measure such as noise level because it may explain previously misunderstood distribution patterns.
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Sandra Goutte, Alain Dubois, Frédéric Legendre. The Importance of Ambient Sound Level to Characterise Anuran Habitat. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2013, 8 (10), pp.e78020. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0078020⟩. ⟨mnhn-02168451⟩

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