Invasive species sound off about impending ecosystem changes

by Felicia Spencer, Virginia Tech
April 17, 2024

Anticipating changes to ecosystems is often at best an educated guess, but what if there was a way to better tune into possible changes occurring?

A team of researchers led by Grace O’Malley, a Ph.D. candidate in biological sciences, and Gabrielle Ripa, a Ph.D. student in plant and environmental sciences, have discovered that the silent growth of non-native invasive plants can affect the soundscape of an ecosystem. These altered soundscapes, the acoustic patterns of a landscape through space and time, may provide a key to better observing the hard-to-see physical and biological changes occurring in an ecosystem as they are beginning.

This novel research approach was published this month in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment to serve as an invitation to other researchers. Investigating soundscapes is not new, but the idea of looking at the soundscape of an entire ecosystem rather than focusing on a single species within a habitat is new and growing.

“It’s kind of a new way of thinking, in terms of thinking about the ecosystem as a whole instead of about this frog species or this bird species,” said O’Malley, who, along with Ripa are affiliated graduate students with the Invasive Species Collaborative. “Think about it across all taxonomic levels.”

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Read the Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment paper: