Coastal and shelf environments support high levels of biodiversity that are vital in mediating ecosystem processes, but they are also subject to noise associated with mounting levels of offshore human activity. This has the potential to alter the way in which species interact with their environment, compromising the mediation of important ecosystem properties. Here, we show that exposure to underwater broadband sound fields that resemble offshore shipping and construction activity can alter sediment-dwelling invertebrate contributions to fluid and particle transport – key processes in mediating benthic nutrient cycling. Despite high levels of intra-specific variability in physiological response, we find that changes in the behaviour of some functionally important species can be dependent on the class of broadband sound (continuous or impulsive). Our study provides evidence that exposing coastal environments to anthropogenic sound fields is likely to have much wider ecosystem consequences than are presently acknowledged.
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