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

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

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.

Biodiversity Monitoring by Plant Proxy is Cheap and Easy: Here’s How and Why

Post provided by Rasmus Ejrnæs, Ane Kirstine Brunbjerg & Hans Henrik Bruun

Could we use the plants in this swamp forest to predict the diversity of other species?

Local communities and regional biotas are built of hundreds, if not thousands, of species. Most of these species are small-bodied and discreet lifeforms. So it’s no wonder that naturalists have almost always focused their attention on conspicuous species of their particular liking. Why plants then? Well, plants are practical and efficient. They “stand still and wait to be counted”, as the eminent population biologist John Harper put it. No matter the weather, from spring to autumn. There are enough plant species to show contrasts between sites, and yet they can usually be identified to species level in the field.

You Can’t Predict the Diversity of Beetles from Lichens… Can You?

Unfortunately, the overwhelming scientific consensus seems to be that any particular taxonomic group won’t adequately represent the biodiversity of other taxonomic groups. The idea of surrogacy seems to hit the same hard wall as most attempts to provide generally working models for variation in biodiversity at local and regional scales. Biodiversity remains one of the largest scientific research questions without good general answers. Continue reading

Crossing the Palaeontological-Ecological Gap

Today is the first day of the Crossing the Palaeontological-Ecological Gap (CPEG) conference. The aim of the conference is to open a dialogue between palaeontologists and ecologists who work on similar questions but across vastly different timescales. This splitting of temporal scales tends to make communication, data integration and synthesis in ecology harder. A lot of this comes from the fact that palaeontologists and ecologists tend to publish in different journals and attend different meetings.

Methods in Ecology and Evolution is one of few ecological journals that attracts submissions from both ecologists and palaeontologists. To highlight this, we’ve released a Virtual Issue, also called Crossing the Palaeontological-Ecological Gap. Continue reading

Bats, Acoustic Methods and Conservation 4.0: An Interview with Kate Jones

At this year’s International Statistical Ecology Conference (ISEC 2018) David Warton interviewed Kate Jones, Chair in Ecology and Biodiversity at University College, London. Their conversation mainly focused on how to classify bats from acoustic data, with particular reference to ‘Acoustic identification of Mexican bats based on taxonomic and ecological constraints on call design‘ by Veronica Zamora‐Gutierrez et al. They also discuss Conservation 4.0!

We’ll have more of David’s interviews from the ISEC coming out over the next few weeks. Keep an eye out for them here and on the Methods in Ecology and Evolution YouTube channel.

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

BES Macroecology 2018: Macroecology and Data

Post provided by Faith Jones

© Matthew Leonard

© Matthew Leonard

The annual BES Macroecology Special Interest Group conference took place on the 10th and 11th of July. This year the meeting was in St Andrews, Scotland. Over 100 delegates came together in this old University town to discuss the latest research and concepts in macroecology and macroevolution.

Remote Sensing, Funky Koalas and a Science Ceilidh

The conference opened with a plenary by Journal of Applied Ecology Senior Editor Nathalie Pettorelli from ZSL. She talked about how remote sensing can be used in ecological and conservation studies. In the other plenary talks, we heard from:

  • Methods in Ecology and Evolution Senior Editor Bob O’Hara from NTNU on, among other things, how useful occupancy models are when “occupancy” is such a broad term
  • Anne Magurran from the University of St Andrews discussing turnover and biodiversity change
  • Brian McGill from the University of Maine talking about the data-driven approach to the “biodiversity orthodoxy” and challenging the conventional wisdom about macroecological change

We also hosted a student plenary speaker, Alex Skeels, who gave a lively talk about diversification and geographical modelling using some pretty funky disco koalas. In addition to these talks, there were 60 short 5 minutes talks and 20 posters. 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

Also of Interest… Journal of Applied Ecology

Post provided by Aaron M. Ellison

The Struggle is Real: Finding Interesting and Relevant Articles

Where to start? We are awash in data, information, papers, and books. There are hundreds of ecological and environmental journals published regularly around the world; the British Ecological Society alone publishes five journals and is now accepting submissions for a sixth (more information on People and Nature here).

None of us has time even to click on the various articles flagged by alerts, feeds, or keywords, and few even browse tables of contents (which are becoming irrelevant as we move to DOIs and immediate-online publication). Increasingly, we rely on our friends, colleagues, students, and mentors to point us towards papers we might find interesting – further evidence, I suppose, of the importance of good networks for knowledge creation and scientific understanding.

Regular readers of Methods in Ecology and Evolution or this Methods blog may not realise how many methodological papers are published routinely in our BES sister journals. In this inaugural posting of Also of interest…, I highlight three papers recently published in Journal of Applied Ecology that introduce and apply new, model-based methodology to interesting ecological questions. The specific methods are like many seen in the pages of Methods in Ecology and Evolution and suggest general approaches for modelling and studying complex ecological and environmental phenomena. Continue reading