Agent-based models to investigate sound impact on marine animals: bridging the gap between effects on individual behaviour and population level consequences

L.O. Mortensen*, M.E. Chudzinska, H. Slabbekoorn, F. Thomsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Marine ambient sound levels have risen due to noisy human activities, such as shipping, fishing, seismic surveys and piling for windfarms. Marine mammals and fishes are two prominent taxonomic groups that are exposed to this noise pollution, which may experience detrimental effects at the population level. Acoustic effects on individual behaviour such as deterrence, disturbance, distraction and masking of biologically relevant sounds, can be translated energetically to changes in vital rates (growth, maturation, reproduction and survival) in a population consequences of acoustic disturbance (PCAD) approach. However, we typically neglect spatial variation in species distributions and noise pollution, while abiotic factors like temperature, bathymetry and currents, as well as habitat quality in terms of feeding or hiding opportunities, will also have a geographically variable impact on potential consequences. We here address the conceptual integration of agent based models (ABM) into the PCAD framework, as a suitable theoretical tool with high potential for the exploration of these spatial factors and their modifying role in noise impact assessment studies. We review five ABM case studies, including investigations into: 1) effects of movement strategy on the impact of explosions in harbour porpoise; 2) effects of disturbance sensitivity on pile driving impact on migrating cod; 3) impact of seismic survey sounds on Atlantic mackerel distribution and movement; 4) population-level impact of mitigation of harbour porpoise bycatch with pingers; and 5) population effects of alternative windfarm construction scenarios in harbour porpoise. We discuss similarities and differences among these studies in sound and species mapping approaches and we evaluate model realism and pattern validation. We believe that ABMs are a valuable tool for integrating spatial information into ecological impact studies that investigate acoustic disturbance, for any type of sound source, and for both marine mammals and fish. 
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1074-1086
Number of pages13
Issue number7
Early online date18 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021


  • Agent based model (ABM)
  • Marine fishes
  • Marine mammals
  • Noise pollution
  • Population consequences of acoustic disturbance (PCAD)


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