Heard but not seen, populations of forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) are rapidly declining due to ivory poaching. As one of the largest land mammals in the world, this species is surprisingly difficult to observe in the dense forests of Central Africa, but their low frequency rumbles can be recorded. With the autonomous recording afforded by passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) though, we have a window onto forest elephant ecology and behaviour that’s providing data critical to their conservation and survival.
The diverse ways that PAM can contribute to conservation outcomes is growing and while still underappreciated, the availability of relatively inexpensive recorders, increased power efficiency, and powerful techniques to automate the detection of signals have led to an explosion in use. In 2007 there were only about 20 published papers using PAM techniques, but since then over 400 papers have appeared in peer-reviewed journals.
Spectrogram of two forest elephant rumbles. Horizontal line shows the limit of human hearing.
Essentially, PAM is the automatic recording of sounds in a given environment, often for long periods. The trick, and often greatest challenge, is to find the signals of interest (bird calls, elephant rumbles, gunshots) within the recordings. With these signals we can quantify abundance, occupancy and spatial or temporal patterns of activity. Particularly in landscapes or ecosystems where visual observation is difficult (e.g. oceans, rainforests, nocturnal environments) PAM may be uniquely capable of delivering informative and unbiased data. Because PAM is a relatively new method but of considerable interest across the disciplines of ecology, behaviour and conservation, there is huge interest in refining the sampling and statistical methods needed to deal with the peculiarities of acoustic data. Continue reading →
Bush-crickets are a little-known group of insects that inhabit our marshes, grasslands, woods, parks and gardens. Some may be seen in the summer when they are attracted to artificial lights, but as most produce noises that are on the edge of human hearing, we know little about their status. There are suggestions that some bush-crickets may be benefiting from climate change, while others may be affected by habitat changes. But how to survey something that is difficult to see and almost impossible to hear? Continue reading →
This month’s issue contains four Applications articles and two Open Access articles, all of which are freely available.
– moveHMM: This R package allows ecologists to process GPS tracking data into series of step lengths and turning angles, and to fit a hidden Markov model to these data, allowing, in particular, for the incorporation of environmental covariates.
– BORIS: An open-source and multiplatform standalone program that allows a user-specific coding environment to be set for a computer-based review of previously recorded videos or live observations. Being open to user-specific settings, the program allows a project-based ethogram to be defined that can then be shared with collaborators, or can be imported or modified.
– inbreedR: An R package that provides functions to measure variance in inbreeding – through the strength of correlation in heterozygosity across marker loci – based on microsatellite and SNP markers with associated P-values and confidence intervals. Within the framework of Heterozygosity–fitness correlation theory, inbreedR also estimates the impact of inbreeding on marker heterozygosity and fitness.
– Terrestrial Precipitation Analysis: This package is comprised of the Precipitation Trends (P-Trend), Precipitation Attributes (P-Att) and Precipitation Manipulation (P-Man) tools. Combined, these web tools allow researchers to easily calculate fundamental precipitation statistics for past, present and projected future precipitation regimes for any terrestrial location in the world.
Happy New Year! We hope that you all had a wonderful Winter Break and that you’re ready to start 2016. We’re beginning the year with a look back at some of our highlights of 2015. Here’s how last year looked at Methods in Ecology and Evolution.
We published some amazing articles in 2015, too many to mention them all here. However, we would like to say a massive thank you to all of the authors, reviewers and editors who contributed to the journal last year. Without your hard work, knowledge and generosity, the journal would not be where it is today. We really appreciate all of your time and effort. THANK YOU!
Opportunities at the Interface between Ecology and Statistics
Finding a call of a particular primate species within hours and hours of audio recordings of a forest is no easy task; like finding a ‘needle in a haystack’ so to speak. Automated acoustic monitoring relies on the ability of researchers to easily locate and isolate acoustic signals produced by species of interest from all other sources of noise in the forest, i.e. the background noise. This can be much harder than it sounds. Think about whenever you have to use any kind of voice recognition system: seeking out a quiet room will greatly improve the chances you are understood by the robot-like voice on the other end of the phone. If you ever set foot in a rainforest the first thing you’ll notice is that it is anything but quiet. In fact characterizing and quantifying soundscapes has become a marker for the complexity of the biodiversity present in a given environment.
Primate monitoring programmes can learn a great deal from cetacean research where Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) is the norm (since individuals are rarely observable visually). Research on bats and birds can provide excellent examples to follow as well. Automated algorithm approaches including machine learning techniques, spectral cross-correlation, Gaussian mixture models, and random forests have been used in these fields to be able to detect and classify audio recordings using a trained automated system. Such automated approaches are often investigated for a single species but impressive across-taxa efforts have also been initiated within a framework of real-time acoustic monitoring. Implementing these in other research fields could lead to significant advances. Continue reading →
Today is 10th National Wildlife Day. As we have done for a few awareness days this year (Bats, Biodiversity and Bees so far) we are marking the day by highlighting some of our favourite Methodsin Ecology and Evolution articles on the subject. Obviously ‘wildlife’ is a pretty big topic, so we have narrowed our focus (slightly) to monitoring wildlife (with one or two additional papers that we didn’t want to leave out).
This list is certainly not exhaustive and there are many more wonderful articles on these topics in the journal. You can see more of them on the Wiley Online Library.