Monitoring Ecosystems through Sound: The Present and Future of Passive Acoustics

Post provided by Ella Browning and Rory Gibb

AudioMoth low-cost, open-source acoustic sensor ©openacousticdevices.info

AudioMoth low-cost, open-source acoustic sensor ©openacousticdevices.info

As human impacts on the world accelerate, so does the need for tools to monitor the effects we have on species and ecosystems. Alongside technologies like camera traps and satellite remote sensing, passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) has emerged as an increasingly valuable and flexible tool in ecology. The idea behind PAM is straightforward: autonomous acoustic sensors are placed in the field to collect audio recordings. The wildlife sounds within those recordings are then used to calculate important ecological metrics – such as species occupancy and relative abundance, behaviour and phenology, or community richness and diversity.

The Pros and Cons of Passive Acoustic Monitoring

Using sound to monitor ecosystems, rather than traditional survey methods or visual media, has many advantages. For example, it’s much easier to survey vocalising animals that are nocturnal, underwater or otherwise difficult to see. Also, because acoustic sensors capture the entire soundscape, it’s possible to calculate acoustic biodiversity metrics that aim to describe the entire vocalising animal community, as well as abiotic elements in the environment.

The use of PAM in ecology has been steadily growing for a couple of decades, mainly in bat and cetacean studies. But with sensor costs dropping and audio processing tools improving, there’s currently a massive growth in interest in applying acoustic methods to large-scale or long-term monitoring projects. As very low-cost sensors such as AudioMoth start to emerge, it’s becoming easier to deploy large numbers of sensors in the field and start collecting data. Continue reading

New Associate Editor: Res Altwegg

Today, we are pleased to be welcoming a new member of the Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editor Board. Res Altwegg joins us from the University of Cape Town, South Africa and you can find out a little more about him below.

Res Altwegg

“My interests lie at the intersection between ecology and statistics, particularly in demography, population ecology, species range dynamics and community ecology. My work addresses questions in conservation biology especially in relation to climate change. I’m particularly excited about the increasing availability of large data sets, such as those collected by citizen scientists, and the opportunities and challenges their analysis brings.”

Res is the founding director of the centre for Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation at the University of Cape Town. The centre brings together ecologists and statisticians with the aim to address some of the most important questions in ecology and conservation using cutting-edge statistical methods. He has reviewed for Methods in Ecology and Evolution a number of times over the past few years and has had one article – ‘A general framework for animal density estimation from acoustic detections across a fixed microphone array‘ – published in the journal. Another of Res’ articles has recently been accepted for publication and will appear in an upcoming Special Feature.

We are thrilled to welcome Res as a new Associate Editor and we look forward to working with him on the journal.

In Conservation Planning, Some Data are More Important Than Others

Provided by Heini Kujala and José Lahoz-Monfort

Esta entrada de blog también está disponible en español

Spatial Conservation Planning and the Quest for Perfect Data

Conservation planners and managers often need to make decisions with imperfect information. When deciding what action to take or how to divide resources between candidate locations, we rarely have all the information we’d like on what species are present at a site or which areas are most critical for supporting their population viability. A large volume of ecological research focuses on answering these very questions.

To make conservation decisions, we need other types of data as well. These include information on things like the cost of carrying out a given conservation action, current condition of sites, the distribution and intensity of threats in a region, and much more. Many conservation problems are spatial, meaning that we often need to decide between multiple candidate locations and that there are spatial dependencies between sites that need to be accounted for. All these different pieces of information are needed to make cost-efficient and effective conservation decisions.

Ecologists and conservation biologists are usually concerned about the completeness and accuracy of the ecological data used to make these decisions (understandably). But less effort has been spent in researching and verifying the accuracy of the types of data mentioned above. At the same time, we have relatively poor understanding of how data gaps influence solutions optimised across multiple species and locations, and the relative importance of gaps in different types of data. This is what we set out to find in ‘Not all data are equal: Influence of data type and amount in spatial conservation prioritisation’. Continue reading

En la planificación de la conservación, algunos datos son más importantes que otros

Por Heini Kujala y José Lahoz-Monfort

This blog post is also available in English

La planificación espacial de la conservación y la búsqueda de datos perfectos

Los planificadores y administradores de la conservación a menudo necesitan tomar decisiones con información imperfecta. Al decidir qué acción tomar o cómo dividir recursos entre diferentes localizaciones, rara vez tenemos toda la información que nos gustaría sobre qué especies están presentes en un lugar o qué áreas son las más críticas para respaldar su viabilidad poblacional. Un gran volumen de investigación ecológica se focaliza en responder a estas preguntas.

Para tomar decisiones de conservación, también necesitamos otros tipos de datos, incluyendo, entre otros, información sobre el costo de llevar a cabo una acción de conservación determinada, la condición actual de los diferentes sitios, y la distribución e intensidad de las amenazas en una región. Muchos problemas de conservación son espaciales, es decir que a menudo tenemos que decidir entre varias ubicaciones candidatas, con dependencias espaciales entre ellas. Todas estas diferentes piezas de información son necesarias para tomar decisiones de conservación rentables y efectivas.

Los ecólogos y los biólogos de la conservación suelen estar preocupados por la integridad y exactitud de los datos ecológicos utilizados para tomar estas decisiones (comprensiblemente). Pero se ha dedicado menos esfuerzo a investigar y verificar la exactitud de los otros tipos de datos mencionados anteriormente. Además, tenemos una comprensión relativamente pobre de cómo las lagunas en los datos influyen en las soluciones optimizadas en múltiples especies y ubicaciones, y la importancia relativa de las lagunas en los diferentes tipos de datos. Es esto precisamente lo que nos propusimos investigar en el artículo ‘Not all data are equal: Influence of data type and amount in spatial conservation prioritisation’. Continue reading

New Associate Editors

Today we are welcoming two new Associate Editors to Methods in Ecology and Evolution: Huijie Qiao (Chinese Academy of Sciences, China) and Veronica Zamora-Gutierrez (Unidad Durango, Mexico and University of Southampton, UK). They have both joined on a three-year term and you can find out more about them below.

Huijie Qiao

Huijie Qiao

Huijie Qiao

“My research is focused broadly on macroecology. I work to clarify the theory and methodology behind ecological niche modelling and species distribution modelling. In this realm, I have worked to improve our understanding of those modelling algorithms that perform best under different model configuration scenarios, and examined how spatial bias affects model outcomes. I have also developed a simulation framework designed to understand the causal mechanisms that structure biodiversity on both long and short timescales in a virtual world.”

Huijie had an article published in last December’s issue of Methods in Ecology and Evolution. In ‘Using data from related species to overcome spatial sampling bias and associated limitations in ecological niche modelling‘ the authors assess how useful it is to integrate occurrence data for closely related species with varying degrees of niche overlap into Ecological niche models of focal species. In recent years, Huijie has also had articles published in Global Ecology and Biogeography, American Naturalist and Ecography.

Veronica Zamora-Gutierrez

Veronica Zamora Gutierrez

Veronica Zamora Gutierrez

“I am an ecologist and my research interests range from mammal´s conservation, bioacoustics and species interactions to ecosystem services in both natural areas and human-dominated landscapes like cities and agroecosistems. At present, my work focuses mainly on bats to answer question related to their importance as pollinators and suppressors of insects’ population, their echolocation behaviour and how global change is and might affect them. Deepening our understanding of these questions is crucial for developing effective conservation strategies in this anthropozoic era.”

In 2016, Veronica was the lead author on ‘Acoustic identification of Mexican bats based on taxonomic and ecological constraints on call design‘ which was published in the September issue of Methods in Ecology and Evolution. The article collated a reference call library for bat species that occur in a megadiverse country (Mexico) and is now freely available. More recently, she has published articles on the effects of climate change on bats and the importance of vertebrate pollinators.

We’re delighted to welcome Huijie and Veronica to the Associate Editor Board and we look forward to working with them over the coming years.

Balance: Time for Your Life and Your Career

Post Provided by Stacy De Ruiter

There’s an Impostor Behind this Post

The premise of this post is that it might provide some useful advice on how to achieve a tenable work-life balance and find a satisfying, successful career in science.

©Paul VanDerWerf

I’m writing this post, but there is no way that I would hold myself up as an example of success. I have a job that’s a great fit for me, but there was probably no-one else who wanted it, and there are so many others with more prestigious and high-profile jobs. I sometimes manage to divide my time well between my family and my work goals, but I actually feel like I am shortchanging both of them, basically all the time. And how long ago was the last time I got enough sleep, enough exercise, enough personal time? I often feel like someday very soon everyone is going to realise that I really don’t have it all together.

But here’s the thing: almost all the successful, self-aware people I know feel this way, at least some of the time. Impostor syndrome seems to be incredibly common, and I think at least partly it grows out of a genuine awareness of the privilege and luck that helped pave the way to your achievements. Impostor syndrome that interferes with your mental health or limits your potential is clearly unhealthy, and the part where you refuse to believe in your own competence must go immediately. But if it can peacefully coexist with confidence in your own abilities and healthy ambition, it might even be a good thing (or at least, an honest thing). Continue reading

New Research Shows Pretend Porpoise Sounds are Helping Conservation Efforts

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Estimating effective detection area of static passive acoustic data loggers from playback experiments with cetacean vocalisations‘ taken from Swansea University.

Harbour porpoise under the surface - I. Birks, SeaWatchFoundation

Harbour porpoise under the surface – I. Birks, SeaWatchFoundation

An examination into the detection of harbour porpoises is helping to give new understanding of effective monitoring of species under threat from anthropogenic activities such as fisheries bycatch and coastal pollution.

In a first study of its kind, Dr Hanna Nuuttila, currently at Swansea University’s College of Science – together with scientists from the German Oceanographic Museum, the University of St Andrews and Bangor University – revealed how playing back porpoise sounds to an acoustic logger can be used to assess the detection area of the device, a metric typically required for effective monitoring and conservation of protected species.

Continue reading

How do You Know that the Top Dog is Really the Top Dog? Using Elo-Ratings and Bayesian Inference to Determine Rankings in Animal Groups

Post provided by Julia Fischer

A female chacma baboon (rear) signals her submission to another female by raising her tail. ©Julia Fischer.

A female chacma baboon (rear) signals her submission to another female by raising her tail. ©Julia Fischer.

Anyone who studies social animals in the wild (or human groups, for that matter), will soon find that some individuals threaten or attack others frequently, while others try to get out of the way or signal their submission in response to aggression. Observers tally the outcome of such aggressive interactions between any given two individuals (or ‘dyads’) and try to deduce the rank hierarchy from such winner-loser matrices. One drawback of this approach is that all temporal information is lost.

Imagine Royal, a baboon, dominating over Power, another baboon, 20 times, and Power dominating over Royal 20 times as well. If we just look at these data, we might think that they have the same fighting ability and similar ranks. But, if we know that Royal beat Power the first 20 of the interactions, then Power beat Royal in all further interactions, we’d come to a totally different conclusion. We’d infer that Power had toppled Royal and a rank change had taken place.

How do Rank Hierarchies Change Over Time?

One prominent method that takes the temporal dynamics of winner-loser interactions into account was originally developed to calculate the relative skill level of chess players. This method was introduced by Arpad Elo and is hence known as Elo-Rating. Elo-Rating has also been applied to rate the relative skills in a variety of competitive fields, including Major League Baseball, video games, and Scrabble. Continue reading

New Associate Editor: Johan Kotze

Today, we are pleased to be welcoming a new member of the Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editor Board. Johan Kotze joins us from the University of Helsinki, Finland and you can find out a little more about him below.

Johan Kotze

“I am an entomologist with a broad interest in all things urban. In particular, my research focuses on beetles (and other insect communities) in urban greenspace, ranging from remnant forests, meadows, and bogs to vegetated roofs. During the past few years, I have also become interested in using urban soils as in situ laboratories to investigate decomposition, soil quality and the soil microbial community. Working in urban environments inevitably results in messy data – beyond the usual messiness of community data – due to sample losses. Methodological, design and statistical tools to treat such messy data interest me as well.”

We are thrilled to welcome Johan as a new Associate Editor and we look forward to working with him on the journal.

All You (Possibly) Ever Wanted to Know about ‘Trap Nests’

Post provided by Michael Staab

What are ‘Trap Nests’ and What are They Good For?

Females are attracted to the hollow material in trap nests.

Females are attracted to the hollow material in trap nests.

When thinking of bees and wasps, most people have social insects living in colonies in mind. But most species are actually solitary. In these species, every female builds her own nest and does not care for the offspring once nest construction is completed. Most of those species nest in the ground. Several thousand species of bees and wasps use pre-existing above-ground cavities though (such as hollow twigs and stems, cracks under bark, or empty galleries of wood-boring insects).

To keep you in suspense, I’ll resolve the importance of studying cavity-nesting species later in this blog post. First, I’ll introduce you to one of the more elegant research methods in ecology: trap nests. To study and collect these cavity-nesting species, you can take advantage of their nesting preferences. By exposing artificial cavities and offering access to an otherwise restricted nesting resource, you can attract females searching for suitable nesting sites.

Building these trap nests is simple, but the design can vary greatly. Many designs and materials can be used to build the artificial nesting sites, such as drilling holes in wooden blocks or packing hollow plant material (e.g. reeds) in plastic tubes. Once females find the trap nest and finish their nest construction, the developing offspring are literally ‘trapped’ in their nests. They can then be collected, their trophic interactions (e.g. food and natural enemies) observed, and the specimens can be reared for identification. Continue reading