Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Biological Sciences


Biological Sciences


College of Science and Mathematics


Clinton Francis

Advisor Department

Biological Sciences

Advisor College

College of Science and Mathematics


A growing body of research focuses on how background sounds shape and alter critical elements of animals’ lives, such as foraging behavior, habitat use, and ecological interactions (Bradbury & Vehrencamp, 2011; Barber et al., 2010; Kight & Swaddle, 2011; Shannon et al., 2016). Much of this research has centered on the effects of anthropogenic noise (Dominoni et al., 2020; Francis & Barber, 2013; Ortega, 2012; Swaddle et al., 2015), but recent studies have also revealed that natural sound sources can influence animal behavior (Davidson et al., 2017; Le et al., 2019). Natural sounds, such as crashing surf, can create conditions where signaling and listening are difficult, but how this influences different species’ ecological interactions are unknown.

To study the effects of crashing surf sound we experimentally introduced landscape-level acoustic playbacks where surf sound was not naturally present to create a “phantom ocean”. Phantom ocean treatment sites were employed alongside higher frequency “shifted” treatment sites to test for frequency-dependent effects, “real ocean” sites where surf sound was endemic, and ambient control sites. The phantom and shifted treatments were played continuously during the spring and summer of 2017-2019. Within this acoustic experimental landscape we conducted multiple studies to test the effects of crashing surf sound on animal behavior, habitat use, and ecological interactions. Through an artificial caterpillar predation experiment modeled after Roslin et al. (2017), we found that when exposed to natural sound treatments the foraging activity of rodents and arthropods increased, while that of birds declined. A potential explanation for this pattern includes taxon-specific responses reflecting different perceived risk-reward trade-offs in natural sound conditions. To follow this up we performed occupancy modeling on data collected by camera traps set within our system. We observed different responses among groups of species with different functional roles in the community for both detection (p) and occupancy (Ψ) probabilities.

Our combined results indicate different species and functional groups have unique foraging behavior and patch use responses to natural sounds, likely based on their ecological interactions. Specifically, Cricetid rodents are likely more active in areas exposed to natural sounds, possibly due to lower perceived predation risk because mesocarnivores are less active. Insectivorous birds are also likely less active under natural sounds conditions, although the frequency of the sound, and the body size and diet of the bird appear influential. Together these findings suggest that natural sounds shape not only individual behavioral adjustments, but also multi-trophic, community level interactions. Our results show that natural sounds are an important driver of ecological interactions, but much remains to be uncovered. The mechanisms by which natural sounds influence individuals, populations, and many other aspects of ecology remain unexplored and provide fertile ground for future inquiry.