Recommended ReadsMarch 17th, 2020

Measuring biodiversity by listening to rainforests

Bonnie Graham
Bonnie Graham, Design Researcher

“Though tropical rainforests cover a mere 2% of the Earth’s surface, they are home to more than half of all plant and animal species. During peak noise-making hours, these forests practically vibrate with sound: Birds call, insects whirr, monkeys howl, frogs chirp, wildcats growl, bats click, rodents squeak, and snakes hiss.”

But when that biodiversity is lost, the soundscape becomes less rich, less complex. As one of the researcher explains, she likes to imagine “rainforests as an orchestra in which each species is a different musical instrument” and her hope is to hear “a lush, vibrant, and varied acoustic composition”.

Using bioacoustic research to map a forest’s biodiversity avoids the pitfalls of conventional measuring tools: satellite imagery only tells us about the forest canopy (which may not change in selectively logged forests), and wildlife cameras only capture a small slice of a forest’s inhabitants.

I’m very curious about any research that engages more of our senses to understand data or information. The researcher mentions that, though he had heard the rainforest in person, he was still shocked by its richness when he listened to the recordings. He had naturally filtered out much of what he was hearing as “background noise” when he was physically present. This prompts me to wonder how much we filter out day-to-day and how this affects our relationship with nature.

The whole project is fascinating – read more about it at One Zero.


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