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Bioacoustic monitoring - Can AI help the planet?

Updated: May 23


Photo credit: Veritree

If you’ve ever noticed an increase in birdsong around your home and thought ‘spring is coming’, you’ve used a very basic form of bioacoustics.


Scientists have been using bioacoustic monitoring to learn about nature for a long time, but technological advances mean this process is now more useful than ever. This is very exciting news for conservation projects since data that was previously difficult or impossible to collect and analyse is now available.


So, what exactly is bioacoustic monitoring and how can it help us protect natural spaces?


What is bioacoustic monitoring?


Bioacoustic monitoring is a type of acoustic monitoring that measures animal, bird, and insect sounds to understand the health of the ecosystem and observe patterns.


Acoustic monitoring is the process of using sounds to gather information about an environment.


In the past, bioacoustic monitoring was done manually, by going out into nature and listening for wildlife sounds, then noting them down. This later progressed into recording them.


Now, advanced systems can be left in remote locations to record at set intervals or at different times of day, resulting in hundreds, or even thousands of hours of data to analyse!


Bioacoustic analysis


Acoustic monitoring is the collection of the data - the recording of sounds. To use this data, it has to be analysed. This is where the rise of AI has been a big help, since it enables people to quickly understand large volumes of the data, supercharging the potential of bioacoustic monitoring.


Artificial intelligence can be trained to recognise different sounds in recordings and to observe patterns in how these sounds show up. While the process still needs significant human input to ensure accuracy, AI is allowing scientists to do more with the sounds they record than ever before.


What’s the purpose of bioacoustic monitoring?


Listening to nature can tell us a lot. A biodiverse area will have a rich soundscape, full of information. When something changes in an environment, the soundscape will change too.


Bioacoustic monitoring can be used to:

  • Observe population trends over time

  • Find species diversity in a given area

  • Observe changes in behaviour

  • Compare biodiversity in similar areas

  • Track the health of an ecosystem by monitoring key indicator species


Why is bioacoustic monitoring important?


Bioacoustic monitoring can help us understand nature, and understand the impact of outside factors like human activity or climate change.


One important way sound can help us understand what’s happening in an environment is by by recording and showing the presence of indicator species or keystone species. Both of these can give an overview of biodiversity health in an area.


For example, if you are worried about water or air pollution, you could use bioacoustics to track any changes in numbers or in the behaviours of frogs. Since their permeable skin makes them very vulnerable to toxins, they are often the first to show signs of trouble in polluted environments.


What are the benefits of bioacoustics monitoring?


Bioacoustic monitoring has become an accessible and scalable solution for projects wanting to measure biodiversity health.


Since systems can be set up in specific areas and left there for weeks or months, they are only minimally disturbing to wildlife. They also allow experts to monitor biodiversity in its natural state, without human interference.


This noninvasive approach means it can often successfully confirm the presence of endangered species, creating incentive to protect the area. Endangered species can be hard for humans to spot, especially if numbers are low, but will show up on sound recordings once humans have left the area.


Bioacoustics and reforestation


When it comes to measuring the success of reforestation and afforestation projects, bioacoustic monitoring is a very useful tool. True success is the restoration of a diverse, thriving ecosystem, not just the number of trees planted, so sound can help us measure the health of an ecosystem.


To get a realistic view of how much biodiversity has been lost, projects can compare sounds across degraded and healthy sites, to see the difference in biodiversity between the two. As well as understanding biodiversity loss pre-project, reforestation initiatives can monitor bioacoustics over time to get an idea of the changing health of the ecosystem. In the case of successful projects, they can also measure improvements over time. For projects in remote areas, the ability to leave monitoring equipment in places that would otherwise be very hard to access year round is a huge asset.


Whether you want to know the current state of biodiversity around you, or you’re measuring the impacts of climate change, bioacoustic monitoring is an exciting way that technology can increase the potential of existing scientific processes. If you’re looking for ways that artificial intelligence can help humanity, bioacoustic analysis is an example of its potential for good.

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