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Bioacoustics would benefit from shared technology, says new paper

Bioacoustics, Science Add comments

Conservation Magazine’s Journal Watch has a nice summary of an important new overview of acoustic monitoring (more at the link):

Computer and electronics revolutions have produced sound-recording gear that is “transforming the way we study individuals and populations of animals, and are leading to significant advances in our understandings of the complex interactions between animals and their habitats,” a multinational team of researchers writes in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Using arrays that can include dozens of microphones, for instance, researchers have been able to closely track tiny birds through nearly impenetrable tropical undergrowth and map out their territories. And specialized sound-analysis software can even help researchers figure out the species, age, and sex of noisy animals. Acoustic arrays have also enabled scientists to figure out when birds, such as sage grouse and blackbirds, are calling in a particular direction, or when they are sending broader signals.

“The wide-scale application of acoustic recording and processing technology has the potential to transform the fields of ecology, behaviour and conservation biology,” the team writes. But it will take a little innovation – and some sharing — to make the most of the new tools, they add. One “pressing challenge” is developing better signal-processing algorithms; another is developing common technologies that researchers can share – as opposed to the “customized” systems now in use.

To hurdle these obstacles, the authors suggest scientists “set up a website or wiki to serve as a repository for collective experiences and knowledge” – or expand an existing resource, such as the Bioacoustics listserv. Overall, however, they believe “the future for bioacoustic monitoring in the terrestrial environment is bright.”

Blumstein, D., Mennill, D., Clemins, P., Girod, L., Yao, K., Patricelli, G., Deppe, J., Krakauer, A., Clark, C., Cortopassi, K., Hanser, S., McCowan, B., Ali, A., & Kirschel, A. (2011). Acoustic monitoring in terrestrial environments using microphone arrays: applications, technological considerations and prospectus. Journal of Applied Ecology DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2011.01993.x

Related: See these two recent posts about related work being done by a team of researchers touting a new subdiscipline, soundscape ecology.

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