“Fence-line” contrast soundscape study of forested lands in Allegany State Park and Allegheny National Forest: Is there an impact of oil and gas development on an eastern forest soundscape?

“Natural resources”—an inclusive term indiscriminate of splendor or conservation status – require proper management, be it for forest, oil, water, wildlife, or even soundscapes. The soundscape, or all sounds (biophony, anthrophony, geophony) characterizing an area, is both an ecological monitoring tool and a resource itself—a component of the landscape. As energy demands surge, the oil/gas region of the Appalachian Plateau adjusts to unconventional extraction concurrent with traditional drilling operations. Energy development leaves enduring spatial footprints on the landscape, such as fragmentation from well-pad matrices. Soundscape patterns may not be as readily observed as visual cues, but their analysis can reveal temporal landscape changes and ecological integrity. This study examined the soundscape of a contiguous eastern deciduous temperate forest located across the “fence-line” of a federally-managed forest (Allegheny National Forest, PA), an area with ongoing energy development, and a statemanaged park (Allegany State Park, NY), an area without energy development. Using comparable sites in each state, I deployed ten Wildlife Acoustics SM2 recorders (Wildlife Acoustics 2013) in a north-south line across the PA-NY border. The devices recorded for one minute every thirty minutes, and these data were collected every two months. The indices used reveal how complex or uniform the sound is, the ratio of biophony relative to anthrophony, and ultimately show how biodiversity may wane in response to ecosystem health. The literature generally finds higher biophony and acoustic complexity in undisturbed areas, which the undeveloped NY sites are predicted to reflect. The expected results imply that the infrastructure, land disturbance, and compromised natural soundscape associated with energy development can negatively impact wildlife occupancy, communication, reproductive success, vegetation composition, and ecological integrity as represented by acoustic niches in the soundtope. Incorporating soundscapes into modern landscape assessment ensures comprehensive and informed natural resource management. Results indicated a significant difference between the two forest management plans in only the acoustic complexity index in the full dataset; this could be explained by a lack of temporal distinctions in the full analysis, an influx of species associated with edge on lands with energy development, or the omission of the 2017 dawn chorus data. Homogeneity of variance was detected in the ACI for the NY sites at dawn chorus, meaning the ACI values between sites in NY were not significantly different; however, heterogeneity of variance was detected for the AEI and NDSI.