Date of Award

Fall 2018

Project Type


Program or Major

Biological Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Daniel R Howard

Second Advisor

Carrie L Hall

Third Advisor

Jeff Garnas


Tallgrass prairies are rapidly vanishing biodiversity hotspots for native and endemic species, yet little is known regarding how spatial and temporal variation of prairie soundscapes relates to seasonal changes, disturbance patterns and biological communities. Ecoacoustics, the study of environmental sounds using passive acoustics as a non-invasive tool for investigating ecological complexity, allows for long-term data to be captured without disrupting biological communities. Two studies were carried out by employing ecoacoustic methodology to study grassland carrion food webs and to capture the phenology of a grassland soundscape following a prescribed burn. Both studies were conducted at the Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve (3650’N, 9625’W) and used six acoustic indices to quantify the ratio of technophony to biophony, acoustic complexity, diversity, evenness, entropy, and biological acoustic diversity from over 70,000 sound recordings. Acoustic index values were used to determine the relationship between Nicrophorus burying beetle species composition and the prairie soundscape (Chapter 1) and to determine if prescribed burning changes the composition of the soundscape over time (Chapter 2). In Chapter 1, I found that associations between Nicrophorus burying beetles and the soundscape were unique to particular species, acoustic indices and times of day. For example, N. americanus trap rates showed a positive correlation to areas of increased acoustic complexity specifically at dawn. In addition to positive associations with the soundscape, we found that N. marginatus was consistently negatively correlated to higher levels of biophony, while N. tomentosus was consistently positively correlated to places with higher levels of biophony. Although reproduction of all species examined is dependent upon securing small carrion for reproduction, I found that known habitat and activity segregation of five Nicrophorus beetle species may be reflective of the soundscape. Finally, I show that favorable habitat for a critically endangered necrophilous insect, the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) can be identified by the acoustic signature extracted from a short temporal window of its grassland ecosystem soundscape. Using the same suite of acoustic indices from Chapter 1, in Chapter 2 I examined acoustic recordings at a much larger time scale to determine distinctive acoustic events driven by biophony and geophony across a 23-week period. In addition to examining acoustic changes over time, I examined differences between 11 burned and unburned pastures. Results from this study indicate that prescribed burning does alter the soundscape, especially early in the post-burn period, but the effects are ameliorated by a significant increase in biophony as the growing and breeding season progressed into the warmer summer months. Both studies demonstrate that passive acoustic recording is a reliable method to assess relationships to acoustic communities over space and time.