Forest soundscapes could aid biodiversity studies and conservation

"Networked bioacoustic monitoring systems could ... generate a wealth of data for the scientific community," researcher Rhett Butler said

By Brooks Hays

Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Field studies are laborious, time-consuming and often limited in scope. Monitoring forest conservation efforts can be expensive. To study and protect forests more cost-effectively, scientists suggest listening.

According to a new study, published this week in the journal Science, forest soundscapes can offer scientists surprising insight into forest biodiversity, as well as help conservationists monitor a forest's ecological health.


Satellite imagery can help scientists measure rates of deforestation, but the technology can't always offer a precise measure of a forest's overall health. Satellite imagery can't measure overhunting or damage caused by invasive species.

Bioacoustic devices can measure the songs and sounds of birds, mammals, insects and amphibians living in the forest, allowing scientists to accurately estimate the size and distribution of different species within an ecosystem.

"Beyond measuring the effectiveness of conservation projects and monitoring compliance with forest protection commitments, networked bioacoustic monitoring systems could also generate a wealth of data for the scientific community," researcher Rhett Butler said in a news release.

Often, conserved land and habitats are still open to various activities, and thus, monitoring efforts must ensure those with access don't harm the environment. Additionally, private companies harvesting resources regularly make agreements to strictly limit their impact on land where they're operating.


Bioacoustics can help conservationists ensure public lands aren't degraded and private companies adhere to environmental agreements.

"Companies are adopting zero deforestation commitments, but these policies do not always translate to protecting biodiversity due to hunting, habitat degradation, and sub-canopy fires," Butler said. "Bioacoustic monitoring could be used to augment satellites and other systems to monitor compliance with these commitments, support real-time action against prohibited activities like illegal logging and poaching, and potentially document habitat and species recovery."

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