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What is ecoacoustics? Definition and examples - glossary -

What is ecoacoustics? Definition and examples

Also known as acoustic ecology or soundscape studies, the emerging interdisciplinary science of ecoacoustics studies biophonic, geophonic, and anthropophonic sounds in relation to terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments.

In this field, it is recognized that sounds can be used as tools for ecological research, “to study and monitor animal diversity, abundance, behaviour, dynamics and distribution, and their relationship with ecosystems and the environment”. As such, ecoacoustics is relevant to research around “long-term monitoring, habitat health, biodiversity assessment, soundscape conservation and ecosystem management”, and may be useful for describing the traits of “species, populations, communities, and landscapes/waterscapes”. 

On the basis that the sounds made by animals “are undoubtedly a vehicle for exchanging information between individuals”, environmental sounds contribute significant data about populations, communities, and landscapes’ ecology. Considering “sound as an ecological attribute” can allow the investigation of a wide range of topics related to animals, for example their diversity, abundance, behavior, and dynamics in a given environment. By adopting “relevant ecological parameters […] as proxies”, ecoacoustics can also allow the assessment of topics such as biodiversity, environmental health, and human wellbeing. This field is also a significant tool for “ensur[ing] a strategic connection between nature and humanity” on the basis of biosemiotics (the study of prelinguistic communication and sign-making between all forms of life).

Ecoacoustics have been enabled by considerable developments in monitoring technology and analytical techniques, namely “the availability of autonomous audio recorders” (which circumvent human intrusion and allow “the accumulation of huge amounts of acoustical data”) and “the use of powerful metrics to analyze acoustic data quantitatively”. As a result, recordings made via microphones “can serve many purposes for ecological investigations”, while the replacement of tape recorders by digital recorders, which can be programmed to enable particular objectives, allows recordings to be made at specific times, in hostile and remote environments, for months without oversight, has allowed sound to be interpreted as an ecological attribute. With contemporary acoustic sensors, it is possible to undertake multiple analyses simultaneously, such as the acoustic identification of species and the assessment of noise pollution and ecological processes in relation to climate change. Other outcomes from ecoacoustics include the assessment of biodiversity on the basis of the sounds from a given environment, and environmental sounds’ implications for climate change and urban systems.

Though ecoacoustics presents certain challenges, both theoretical and practical, the benefits it enables for the investigation of ecological processes is expected to produce “abundant and exciting research programs”. To this end, an International Society of Ecoacoustics (ISE) was founded in 2014 “to facilitate this emerging new science”, while the International Institute of Ecoacoustics (Insteco) is “devoted to the study of the role of sound in the ecology of species, populations, communities, ecosystems, and landscapes”.

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