Bioacoustics & Conservation

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The AudioMoth recording device in New Forest National Park, in the U.K., where it is searching for sounds of the New Forest cicada. COURTESY OF ALEX ROGERS

Yale e360 shares more on the value of new recording technology as it relates to conservation:

Listening to Nature: The Emerging Field of Bioacoustics

Researchers are increasingly placing microphones in forests and other ecosystems to monitor birds, insects, frogs, and other animals. As the technology advances and becomes less costly, proponents argue, bioacoustics is poised to become an important remote-sensing tool for conservation.

Mitch Aide, a tropical ecologist based in Puerto Rico, thinks we should listen to the earth a lot more than we do now — and not just listen to it, but record and store its sounds on a massive scale. His aims are not spiritual, but scientific: He, his colleagues, and other experts are developing and deploying audio recorders, data transmission systems, and new artificial intelligence software that together are rapidly expanding scientists’ ability to understand ecosystems by listening to them.

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A 20-second spectrogram, showing various audio frequencies, from Puerto Rico includes the calls of these six species. COURTESY OF SIEVE ANALYTICS

Today, Aide can nail a cheap digital audio recorder to a tree in Puerto Rico’s Luquillo Forest and transmit its recordings to a computer running prototype software, which indicates almost in real time whether any of 25 species of frogs and birds are vocalizing in the forest. The system’s apparent simplicity belies its power – Aide thinks that it and similar systems will allow scientists to monitor ecosystems in ways we can’t yet imagine.

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A golden-browed chlorophonia (Chlorophonia callophrys) in Costa Rica. SHUTTERSTOCK

He dreams that one day soon, audio recordings of natural soundscapes will be like rainfall and temperature data, collected from a worldwide network of permanent stations, widely available for analysis, and permanently archived. Each clip will be “like a museum specimen,” he said, “but containing many species.” Aide says scientists will be able to efficiently determine how species are moving or changing in response to global warming, habitat destruction, or human disturbance, and chart population shifts over large areas.

A recent, steep drop in the price of recording equipment and the rapidly expanding capabilities of user-friendly artificial intelligence algorithms are heralding an era of big natural audio data. One key use of biological acoustic monitoring is tracking what is known as “defaunation,” the hard-to-detect decline of animals like birds and monkeys from habitat that appears intact — for example, animals shot and trapped by poachers in an intact forest.

To fulfill his dream of advancing biological acoustic monitoring, Aide co-founded a company, Sieve Analytics, in 2014. At the company’s small apartment office in San Juan, he recently told me that audio technology promises to push ecological science forward just as satellite imagery has dramatically increased scientists’ ability to track change in tropical forests.

“We now can find fires and logging as they happen, in vast, remote areas, from satellites,” said Aide. “We can even tell which crops are planted after the trees are cut down.” But the problem with satellite images, he says, is that “we can’t see the fauna.”

Because of this, biologists must generally fall back on traditional methods — expensive and time-consuming field surveys by highly trained specialists — to confirm animal species in an area. But the mere presence of fieldworkers can scare animals, and surveys don’t always produce primary records of species’ presence, like specimens or recordings. Cheap digital trail cameras are now routinely used in wildlife surveys to compensate for this…

Read the whole story here.

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