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 ©

AudioMoth low-cost, open-source acoustic sensor ©

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

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 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

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

How Many Animals are Infected with Chronic Wasting Disease?

Post provided by Hildegunn Viljugrein

©Alexandre Buisse

©Alexandre Buisse

The discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Norway in 2016 has led to extensive measures and testing of deer in Norway. Since 2018 there have been similar measures within the EU. But how many deer need to be tested before we can be (almost) certain that a population is not infected by CWD?

In our article – ‘A method that accounts for differential detectability in mixed samples of long‐term infections with applications to the case of Chronic Wasting Disease in cervids’ – we provide important tools for estimation of prevalence and likelihood of finding infected animals in a given population. The paper is a result of a collaborative work between a multidisciplinary group of scientists from the Norwegian Veterinary Institute, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and Prof. Atle Mysterud from Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis at the University of Oslo. Continue reading

Spatial Capture-Recapture: The Pros and Cons of Aggregating Detections

Post provided by Cyril Milleret

Spatial Capture-Recapture and Computation Time

SCR models simultaneously estimate the detection function and density of individual activity centres. A half-normal detection model is generally used.

SCR models simultaneously estimate the detection function and density of individual activity centres. A half-normal detection model is generally used.

The estimation of population size is one of the primary goals and challenges in wildlife ecology. Within the last decade and a half, a new class of tools has emerged, allowing us to estimate abundance and other key population parameters in specific areas. So-called spatial capture-recapture (SCR) models are growing in popularity not only because they can map abundance, but also because they can be fitted to data collected from a variety of monitoring methods. For example, the ever increasing use of non-invasive monitoring methods, such as camera trapping and non-invasive genetic-sampling, is one of the reason that makes SCR models so popular.

One other strengths of SCR models is the ability to make population level inferences. But the wider the region you’re monitoring, the greater the computational burden, challenging the use of such methods at really large scale. Continue reading

What the Past Can Tell Us About the Future: Notes from Crossing the Palaeontological – Ecological Gap

Post provided by Karen Bacon

I had the pleasure of delivering one of the plenary talks at the first (hopefully of many) Crossing the Palaeontological – Ecological Gap meeting held in the University of Leeds on August 30th and 31st. I’m a geologist and a botanist, so this is a topic that’s close to my heart and my professional interests.

How Palaeoecology Can Help Us Today

©Gail Hampshire

©Gail Hampshire

As we move into an ecologically uncertain future with pressures of climate change, land-use change and resource limitations, the fossil record offers the only truly long-term record of how Earth’s ecosystems respond to major environmental upheaval driven by climate change events. The fossil record is, of course, not without its problems – there are gaps, not everything fossilises in the same way or numbers, and comparisons to today’s ecology are extremely difficult.  It’s these difficulties (and other challenges) that make the uniting of palaeontology and ecology essential to fully address how plants, animals and other organisms have responded to major changes in the past. Perhaps uniting them could give us an idea of what to expect in our near-term future, as carbon dioxide levels return to those not previously experienced on Earth since the Pliocene, over 2 million years ago. Continue reading

The Manager’s Dilemma: Which Species to Monitor?

Post provided by Payal Bal and Jonathan Rhodes

The greater bilby (M.Lagotis). ©Save the Bilby Fund

The greater bilby (M.Lagotis). ©Save the Bilby Fund

Imagine you’re the manager of a national park. One that’s rich in endemic biodiversity found nowhere else on the planet. It’s under the influence of multiple human pressures causing irreversible declines in the biodiversity, possibly even leading to the extinction of some of the species. You’re working with a complex system of multiple species and threats, limited knowledge of which threats are causing the biggest declines and limited resources. How do you decide what course of action to take to conserve the biodiversity of the park? This is the dilemma faced by biodiversity managers across the globe.

In our recent paper, ‘Quantifying the value of monitoring species in multi‐species, multi‐threat systems’, we address this problem and propose a method using value of information (VOI) analysis. VOI estimates the benefit of monitoring for management decision-making. Specifically, it’s a valuation tool that can be used to disentangle the trade-offs in competing monitoring actions. It helps managers decide how to invest (or whether to invest) their money in monitoring actions when faced with imminent biodiversity declines and the urgency of efficient conservation action. Continue reading

Improving Biodiversity Monitoring using Satellite Remote Sensing

Increased access to satellite imagery and new developments in remote sensing data analyses can support biodiversity conservation targets by stepping up monitoring processes at various spatial and temporal scales. More satellite imagery is becoming available as open data. Remote sensing based techniques to capitalise on the information contained in spatially-explicit species data, such as Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), are developing constantly. Current free and open data policy will have a dramatic impact on our ability to understand how biodiversity is being affected by anthropogenic pressures, while improving our ability to predict the consequences of changes at different scales.

In our latest Special Feature, ‘Improving Biodiversity Monitoring using Satellite Remote Sensing‘, Sandra Luque, Nathalie Pettorelli, Petteri Vihervaara and Martin Wegmann explain why tackling this challenge is worth doing. The articles demonstrate how combining satellite remote sensing data with ground observations and adequate modelling can help to give us a better understanding of natural systems, leading to improved management practices. They focus on three key conservation challenges:

  1. Monitoring of biodiversity
  2. Developing an improved understanding of biodiversity patterns
  3. Assessing biodiversity’s vulnerability to climate change

Continue reading