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Loss of winter wonderland: proximity to different road types has variable effects on winter soundscapes

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Most data collection and analyses in soundscape ecology have focused on summer or breeding seasons in urban or protected landscapes, missing important acoustic dynamics in winter, non-breeding periods and in agricultural landscapes, a land-use that constitutes 39% of ice-free surface globally.


To address these gaps, we examined the variation of winter soundscapes across a rural agricultural landscape of Nebraska, USA. We compared high and low traffic sites, testing if traffic levels affected soundscape structure.


We recorded sound over two winters at 19 sites located adjacent to major and minor roadways. We calculated eight unique soundscape indexes to quantify the soundscape over time as a function of traffic and land cover. We applied filters at 80, 1000, and 2000 Hz.


We found clear statistical differences between high and low traffic sites in 7 of 8 soundscape indexes. Soundscape varied throughout the day, but not throughout the season. There was a clear negative correlation between technophony (human-derived sounds) and biophony (ecologically derived sounds) across sites. We found that not all indices may be suitable for all ecosystems.


We quantified the effects of noise pollution on the soundscape of understudied habitats during winter months. By using soundscape indexes as surrogates for biodiversity, acoustic sampling could be an effective method for monitoring biodiversity when traditional methods may be ineffective or too costly. However, caution needs to be taken when choosing indices.

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We thank Amy Oden for collecting the original data. We thank Mary Bomburger Brown and Jim Brandle for advice on-site location and study design. We thank Anne Axel and Stuart Gage for hosting a workshop at the US-IALE meeting on soundscapes and kindly sharing their code.

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Quinn, J.E., Schindler, A.R., Blake, L. et al. Loss of winter wonderland: proximity to different road types has variable effects on winter soundscapes. Landsc Ecol 37, 381–391 (2022).

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