Listen to Nature's Chorus

Scientists are tapping into secret animal sounds to care for the world.

Jul 27, 2023
Listen to Nature's Chorus | Scientists are tapping into secret animal sounds to care for the world.

What can be done to reverse the decline in many animal species? Call them using their natural sounds, of course! Unbelievably, this is what more scientists have been exploring according to BBC Future Planet. And this novel approach seems to have enjoyed some success, for instance, when researchers found that playing recordings of rainfall can prompt breeding in frogs. as this 2020 study reveals.

Monitoring nature’s chorus
In the natural world, the tentacles of sound reach everything from mating behavior to territorial disputes. Monitoring the sounds of nature is already proving useful to conservationists working to support nature who are eavesdropping on this natural sound bank. 

For a start, sounds can help conservationists identify new species, monitor populations and assess the health of ecosystems. They can also force us to think and feel differently about nature’s wonders, and the human impact on our planet as Time reports.  

Cheryl Tipp, curator of wildlife and environmental sound at the British Library explains to BBC Future Planet that technological advances are making so-called passive acoustic monitoring much more accessible and non-invasive. 

This tech-led “listening in”, as Time explains,  is facilitating the logging of phenomena and species in environments such as forest tree roots and ocean depths that are otherwise difficult to observe.

It reports on the Acoustical Society of America conferences showcasing how the new data revealed by these sounds is helping scientists better understand the natural world. 

According to the Guardian, research by Camila Ferrara at Brazil’s Wildlife Conservation Society demonstrates that Amazonian sea turtles are not mute but make over 200 distinct sounds.

Coaxing species back using bioacoustics
A whole world of sonic or sound biodiversity, evolved over millennia, is slowly disappearing as some species dwindle and disappear. In the oceans, the populations of singing whales and vocalizing fish are shrinking, while insect and bird calls are increasingly drowned out by the din of humans and getting lost to extinction.

But BBC Future Planet outlines that scientists involved in conservation are fighting back by listening carefully, and using recordings of these vanishing natural sound choruses to bring nature back.  “An emerging appreciation for the biological importance of sound has led to new strategies for environmental conservation.” So scientists are starting to explore how sound can be used to guide desired behavior in animals to better ensure their survival.

The Sounds of Life, How Digital Technology is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants, is a recent book by University of British Columbia professor, Karen Bakker. According to a university press release, this book spotlights how new technologies allow scientists to tune in to the vibrant conversations happening across the natural world, but also covers how scientists are “using sound to protect and regenerate endangered species from the Great Barrier Reef to the Arctic and the Amazon.” 

Spotlighting some research triumphs
One growing research focus sees researchers using sound to boost the restoration of habits by coaxing particular species to certain locations using “acoustic lures” or their own sounds, a technique successfully used with bats, fish and whales, as this study shows.

In other research, Dominic McAfee, a marine ecologist from the University of Adelaide in Australia. has shown how playing sea soundscapes can summon thousands of baby oysters and help regrow oyster reefs, reported in the press release and covered in our video.  These molluscs play a key role in improving water quality and clarity, and form biogenic reefs which provide habitat for other species.

McAfee’s team worked to create “highways of sounds”, using acoustic technology to broadcast sounds such as the snapping shrimp crackle, that can redirect baby oysters to healthy reefs forming part of reef restoration projects. These efforts can help fight back against habitat loss caused by dredge fishing, and the negative impacts of human-made ocean noise stemming from activities like shipping and offshore pile driving, as The Conversation reports.

Meanwhile, in the centre of the Pacific Ocean, on Palmyra Atoll, BBC Future Planet outlines how, since 2020, a contrived “seabird discotheque” is blaring out the already loud bird calls of seagulls to help bring eight missing seabird species home after a decades-long rats infestation had fed on seabird young. This is part of a seabird recovery program now celebrating its first successes after grey-backed terns were successfully lured to Palmyra by the broadcast sounds.

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Daphne has a background in editing, writing and global trends. She is inspired by trends seeing more people care about sharing and protecting resources, enjoying experiences over products and celebrating their unique selves. Making the world a better place has been a constant motivation in her work.