Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland

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PhD: Scottish Seagrass Soundscapes: acoustics as a tool to monitor their health, role and restoration – University of Edinburgh

Apply by Thu Jan 05 2023 at 12:00
This project will compare the biodiversity of seagrass meadows across Scotland, using visual and acoustic-based methods, develop automatic ways to analyze long-term soundscape datasets and finally, determine how degradation and restoration affect the health of the soundscapes.

Project background

Most marine habitats have unique soundscapes, which, among other potential ecological roles, are used by adult and juvenile fish and invertebrate larvae to indicate suitable settlement habitats (1). Anthropogenic stressors have degraded coastal ecosystems worldwide, and the effects of this degradation on the sounds emanating from the habitats remain largely undocumented, as is the effectiveness of habitat restoration in reestablishing natural soundscapes (1). Seagrass is one of the most valuable ecosystems on the planet, providing a range of invaluable ecosystem services (2). They, for example, act as a feeding and nursery area, for many important commercial species, such as cod (3) (Figure 1). Seagrass is also one of the most efficient natural carbon sinks in the world, proving crucial in an age of climate change. However, this critical ecosystem has declined by 92% in the last 100 years in the UK (4), with a lack of knowledge about the ecosystem being one of the major issues facing the conservation of seagrass in Scotland and the UK. Scotland has 20% of northwest Europe’s seagrass coverage (5), yet the role it plays for UK fisheries (incl. fish, scallops, and crustaceans) is unknown. A recent study (5) investigating the health of Zostera marina (the most abundant seagrass species in the UK) in UK waters excluding Scotland, highlighted that seagrass was in very poor health compared with other countries. Understanding the role and health of seagrass in Scotland is therefore crucial for future conservation efforts and protection. Acoustic metrics provide a cost-effective way to monitor and assess health in seagrass, but their effectiveness can be location-specific and habitat-specific (6). It is therefore important that their use is tested and compared against traditional methods (1,6). Understanding the effect degradation and restoration has on the local soundscape, will contribute to successful restoration efforts going forward.

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