Acoustic observatory to record Australian animals and habitats
The recordings produced by the acoustic observatory will be available online. (Flickr/Virtualwolf CC)
Hundreds of audio recorders are about to be installed in regional Australia to create the country’s first soundscape, which can give scientists important insights into different animals and their habitats.
A team of academics from 13 universities has been preparing all year the acoustic observatory that will be recording sound non-stop for years to come.
To the untrained ear, the recordings might sound like any day on a farm, but Paul McDonald, who researches animal behaviour, told The World Today they are rich in information.
“You might see things like when do the insects start calling, for example — so when do you see cicadas kicking in,” Associate Professor McDonald said.
“And that might be important if that might be linked to say temperature or rainfall, for example, or habitat productivity.
There have been logistical challenges in installing the 300-400 sensors necessary for the soundscape recordings. (Supplied: The Nature Conservancy)
Associate Professor McDonald said having the ability to compress 24 hours worth of audio data into one image was helpful in allowing scientists to asses and tease apart the information represented.
“[It’s] really quite stunning the first time you see it, and it opens up so many doors about how we can actually use these big picture data sets that are monitoring the whole country at the same time,” he said.
Tyranny of distance
But installing the audio soundscape has not been without its challenges for the academics involved in the task.
“It’s a big project — we’re talking about 300 or 400 sensors that we are going to be deploying, and it’s quite challenging logistically,” Associate Professor McDonald said.
“These sensors need to go in areas where we may only visit them once a year, and we need to make sure that they’re working when we’re not there checking them.”
A team of academics from 13 universities has been tirelessly preparing the acoustic observatory. (Supplied: David Watson)
The recordings will also be available online to anyone who wants to access them, allowing academics to listen to their chosen species from the comfort of their offices.
“The good thing about sound is you’re not making decisions beforehand of what’s interesting, Associate Professor McDonald said.
“So we’re able to record all the audio, and if someone wants to look at a particular file for what frogs are doing they can.
“Someone else might want to look at the same file and see what the birds are doing, for example.”
Lin Schwarzkopf, a professor of biology in Townsville, has been taking a specific interest in frog sounds.
“Before we had recordings, people went out into the field and listened to frogs, and learned which frogs made which sounds,” she said.
“Now there’s only a certain amount of time you can spend in the field. Even if you go in the field a lot, you’re only going to get a few samples.
Associate Professor Schwarzkopf hopes to use the recordings to study what effects cane toads may be having on native frogs. (ABC RN: Ann Jones)
“Maybe a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks, maybe even a couple of months — but that’s all you’re going to get.”
Professor Schwarzkopf said frogs call to each other when they are breeding. Male frogs call, and female frogs respond and move towards the call.
“What we’d like to know is, on a broad scale, what kind of effect are cane toads having on native frogs; are they stopping them calling,” she said.
“Are they changing the way they call? Are they forcing them to use more energy to call?
“That’s an area of research that’s been neglected because no-one’s had the data to really look at it.”
The acoustic soundscape will be available by early next year.