Environmental Bio-acoustic Monitoring
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Acoustic sensing holds great promise in ecological observation and to enable monitoring of Australian biodiversity at unprecedented scales. Just as remote sensing has revolutionised vegetation monitoring, acoustic sensors have the potential to revolutionise faunal monitoring.
There is a growing interest in acoustic sensing driven by the increasing need to monitor biodiversity and the falling price of monitoring technology. However as yet there is no standardised acoustic sensing method, little ground truthing and few general and long-term studies. Much research has been undertaken, but to date this has been piecemeal, undertaken by individual researchers working on individual projects and often only on single species. There is a need to consolidate research to realise the acoustic sensing vision of broad scale biodiversity monitoring. In particular we wish to bring together researchers involved in different aspects of acoustic sensing including hardware, software, data analysis, environment with a view to defining an integrated framework for biodiversity monitoring.
The aims of this workshop are to:
1. understand the current state of acoustic sensing, including developed techniques and gaps,
2. devise an integrated framework for acoustic biodiversity monitoring, and
3. formulate a collaborative plan to realise this framework.
This working group comprises recognized experts in the areas of acoustic sensing, including technologists, ecologists and biologists. It will deliver a quality evidence-based proposal for a world-class acoustic biodiversity-monitoring framework for Australia. Australia has much to benefit from acoustic sensing given its size, sparse population, unique environment and environmental pressures. Use of bioacoustic monitoring has the potential to enable improved environmental decision-making and planning, allowing Australia to conserve and better manage our environmental assets. Furthermore there are several Australian researchers leading the way in acoustic sensing.
Download a recording of an Eastern Whipbird (Approx. 400kB mp3 format)
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Products and outcomes
Environmental Bio-acoustic Monitoring FINAL REPORT available for download
A news update on bioacoustics monitoring
Bush.fm is collecting sound recordings from microphones being deployed by the Australian Supersite Network. At full capacity, the acoustic network is expected to generate 25TB of data per year. The repository uses protocols for the visualisation, description, and analysis of acoustic data that were adopted at the ACEAS Workshop held in May 2012.
Subsequent to the workshop Marco Fahmi Jason Wimmer, Michael Towsey, Stuart Parsons and Terry Greene attended a day-long meeting with scientists and technicians working in the bioacoustics space in New Zealand. This was held concurrent with the eResearch NZ conference. The NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) was represented by a big contingent. DOC plans to deploy acoustic sensors in designated locations (national parks etc.) around the country and has developed and built their own devices. The challenges they are currently facing are scientific and technical: what data collection and analysis protocol to use, how to standardise data formats and manage them appropriately.
As is always the case, the acoustic deployment program is leading in terms of promise and potential but behind on staffing and funding. We, therefore, need to find the right compromise of what can be done with limited resources.
We heard from a number of speakers on different collection methods and the results they have obtained from the data. We also demonstrated an early prototype of Bush.fm and its potential to solve the acoustic data deluge. Many issues that emerged were disciplinary in nature and not specific to NZ, which could be solved by leveraging the capacities of the various groups. As the prior work by the ACEAS group envisioned a national scale bioacoustic network, we decided to carry the technical aspects of the work further by defining metadata standards that could work for Australia and NZ.
DOC was very interested in the software behind bush.fm. Given that it is going to be open source, it is amenable for re-use for NZ data. Furthermore, it can be used as an open platform to build scientific analysis tools and data transformations.
Overall, the workshop achieved its goal. It connected key researchers and technicians in the latest developments in the area and created an opportunity to exchange ideas and tips.
Members of the group have initiated and are guiding a special edition of Ecological Informatics on the topic "Ecological Acoustics", which was published in 2014. This special edition showcases world-class applications of ecological acoustics which demonstrate its usefulness and suggest the way towards internationally accepted protocols.
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Workshop report (8-11 May 2012)
The workshop goal was to assess the potential of bioacoustic monitoring as a strategy for large-scale, long-term monitoring as a component of an overall national monitoring agenda. If the method was deemed appropriate, the workshop was to provide a coherent strategy for monitoring biodiversity at national/continental scales through the recording of vocal fauna such as insects, frogs, birds and mammals.
After scene-setting by Peter Grace (the workshop instigator), subsequent facilitation was undertaken largely by David Westcott. It quickly became clear that bioacoustic monitoring has significant potential as a broad-scale monitoring tool in that it:
(i) can collect data relevant to our monitoring needs, e.g. presence/absence, distribution, diversity, across a range of issues, e.g. climate change, biosecurity, land use change, etc.
(ii) is cost effective and data collection can be automated
(iii) can collect data for a broad range of taxa (insects, frogs, birds, mammals), entities (communities and ecosystems), including humans and their activities
(iv) produces data that can be analysed in manual, semi-automated and fully automated modes
(v) collects the raw data unbiased by observer variability
(vi) collects data that is persistent and can be used for current and retrospective enquiries
(vii) has low cost of data storage, curation and provision and in some cases existing facilities and infrastructure can further defray these costs.
A necessary first step was recognised as the development of a document that addressed the full range of issues associated with design of a national bioacoustics monitoring system as a component within a national strategy for biodiversity monitoring and ecosystem assessment. This manuscript would be submitted to a scientific peer-reviewed journal such as Frontiers in Ecology or Trends in Ecology and Evolution (the “policy paper”). The process of outlining this paper led to the general design of a national strategy for bioacoustics monitoring and ecosystem assessment.
The participants broke into working groups based on the outline of the policy paper. Two of the larger groups fleshed out further details of the design of a national bioacoustics monitoring array considering placement of sensor platforms, data acquisition, data analysis, and metrics needed to inform policy regarding biodiversity and ecosystem integrity. Merging the work of these two groups produced a cohesive framework for a three-tier approach toward the national program.
||A permanent infrastructure project which includes a national sensor array, database and data analysis/interpretation infrastructure and the institutional arrangements to provide rapid feedback of results to the program and to decision makers. The sensor array would be deployed in an appropriate manner to address specific (one or a few) large-scale monitoring issues of national relevance and would be designed around explicit questions related to those issues. Which questions/issues were beyond the scope of the current workshop.
||Allied acoustic monitoring projects that address specific and potentially local questions but which meet the standards of the national array and provide data to complement it.
||A metadata management system that enables discovery of the data.
The development of the national program was envisaged as occurring in two phases: (i) proof-of-concept using the TERN Supersites (from “peep to policy”), and (ii) up-scaling to a national bioacoustics array and analysis system.
All workshop participants felt that the workshop was extremely productive and desired continuing involvement with the development of the concepts discussed. In a period of just three and half days they had gone from being a collection of individuals (and strangers) with expertise relevant to the issue, to a group of colleagues and friends working towards common and challenging goal.
The first outcome will be a report to TERN (to follow the presentation given to the TERN Director at the end of the meeting) in the format of a Green Paper for DIISRTE, DAFF and DSEWPaC and then as a journal paper as described. Finally, it should be noted, if this group’s efforts to develop a national monitoring program are to be relevant we need to begin working on the relationships with the key stakeholders and potential funders sooner rather than later.
Left to Right: Craig Richardson (DSEWPaC), Paul Roe (QUT), Michael Towsey (QUT), Gordon Grigg (UQ), Jason Wimmer (QUT), Hamish Campbell (UQ), Andrew Taylor (UNSW), Aaron Rice (Cornell, USA), Marco Fahmi (QUT), David Westcott (CSIRO), Terry Greene (Dept of Conservation, NZ), Grant Hamilton (QUT), David Williams (DPI, Vic), Stuart Gage (Michigan State Univ, USA ), Stuart Parsons (Univ Aukland, NZ), Navindah Kottege and Raja Jurdak (CSIRO). Absent from photo: Peter Grace (QUT), Mike Liddell (JCU), Hugh Possingham (UQ), Ian Williamson (QUT).
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