Deer browsing alters sound propagation in temperate deciduous forests

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2019
Authors:Boycott, Gao, Gall
Journal:PLOS ONE
Date Published:Jan-02-2020

The efficacy of animal signals is strongly influenced by the structure of the habitat in which they are propagating. In recent years, the habitat structure of temperate forests has been increasingly subject to modifications from foraging by white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Increasing deer numbers and the accompanying browsing have been shown to alter vegetation structure and thus the foraging, roosting, and breeding habitats of many species. However, despite a large body of literature on the effects of vegetation structure on sound propagation, we do not yet know what impact deer browsing may have on acoustic communication. Here we used playback experiments to determine whether sound fidelity and amplitude of white noise, pure tones, and trills differed between deer-browsed and deer-excluded plots. We found that sound fidelity, but not amplitude, differed between habitats, with deer-browsed habitats having greater sound fidelity than deer-excluded habitats. Difference in sound propagation characteristics between the two habitats could alter the efficacy of acoustic communication through plasticity, cultural evolution or local adaptation, in turn influencing vocally-mediated behaviors (e.g. agonistic, parent-offspring, mate selection). Reduced signal degradation suggests vocalizations may retain more information, improving the transfer of information to both intended and unintended receivers. Overall, our results suggest that deer browsing impacts sound propagation in temperate deciduous forest, although much work remains to be done on the potential impacts on communication.

Short Title:PLoS ONE
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Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith