Listen up: new technologies for sound biodiversity monitoring

TERN is investing in a brave new world of biodiversity monitoring with remote sensors and artificial intelligence. Acoustic sensors at our nation-wide environmental observatories provide the infrastructure and data required by our stakeholders to monitor biodiversity at large spatial and temporal scales. Come hear their stories and the sounds they’re using to understand and conserve our ecosystems.

TERN has invested in the latest bioacoustic sensor technology and collected, archived and made openly available over 42,000 sound files from 21 sites across our nation-wide collaborative research infrastructure



Bioacoustic sensors do much more than simply capturing the beautiful, calming soundscapes of our natural environment. They also provide an effective and efficient means for monitoring biodiversity and ecosystem change across large areas over long time periods.

Remotely controlled bioacoustic sensors provide a unique 24-hour-a-day monitoring capability for vocal animals such as birds and frogs, and capture insights into animal occurrence and behaviour.  And, by coupling bioacoustic data with TERN-delivered data on soil, vegetation, meteorology, water quality and long-term observations of gas and water exchanges, they can even act as an early warning system, alerting us to changes in the environment.

Recognising this, TERN has invested in the latest bioacoustic sensor technology and collected, archived and made openly available over 42,000 sound files from 21 sites across our nation-wide collaborative research infrastructure.

To deal with the large amounts of data being remotely delivered by the sensors, TERN has developed direct data feeds to the TERN’s BioAcoustics Data Portal utilising the cyber infrastructure of fellow NCRIS project, the Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation (QCIF).

We’ve also worked with leading acoustic-sensing researchers from Australia, New Zealand and the United States to develop strategies for large-scale deployments of acoustic sensors, and for the analysis of acoustic-sensor data.

Needs-driven data enabling research industry collaboration

Open, usable data with defined standards is enabling widespread use of TERN’s bioacoustics infrastructure by both scientists and the wider community.

University of Tasmania PhD student Scott Whitemore is making use of the extensive knowledge built from two decades of bird studies at TERN’s Warra Tall Eucalypt SuperSite coupled with access to the nearly five years of acoustic monitoring at the site to develop methods for automated species identification using acoustic data.

Scott’s work, which is part of an ARC Linkage project, uses sonograms, visual representations of audio recordings, and specialised Multi-Instance-Multi-Label algorithms to identify individual species as components of a natural orchestra.

Tim Wardlaw of Forestry Tasmania and Partner Investigator of that ARC Linkage project, says that the project has developed from an industry driven need for a more cost-effective method for monitoring bird populations.

“In the forestry world, third-party certification is looking for evidence that management is achieving what is intended,” says Tim

“From a biodiversity perspective, this is not simply a matter of translating knowledge from site-level research into operational practices and then applying those practices in the wider landscape. We need to monitor the outcomes of operational practices. This means we have to up-scale site level surveys to whole of estate surveys.”

“But, traditional on-ground point-count bird surveys are too expensive for this. About $3.40 per minute of data for a large landscape study and there are a limited number of suitable experienced ornithologists to do those surveys. The remotely-sensed bioacoustics data TERN delivers is a way of overcoming this and providing the large-scale data required by our industry partners.”

Scaling up to influence national decision-making and policy

Further north at TERN’s Tumbarumba Wet Eucalypt SuperSite, researchers from the CSIRO are using TERN’s bioacoustics infrastructure to investigate the drivers of ecosystem change.

Jacqui Stol of CSIRO Land and Water is using TERN bioacoustics data to, firstly, produce a comprehensive list of bird species found at the Tumbarumba site by using an expert ornithologist to explore the acoustic data over a selection of times, days, seasons and years.

“Using those temporal attributes we’re investigating patterns and dynamics and whether we can relate them to changes in forest structure caused by logging,” says Jacqui.

“We’re also investigating linking up canopy measurements collected using satellite and on-ground lidar as well as specific structural data from TERN to investigate changes in biodiversity under different management regimes.”

“The availability of the long-term, broad scale TERN data means that we’re able to better understand ecosystem change at geographical and time scales that previously weren’t possible, making the translation of science to policy and management more likely.”

Sound artists “unearth sonic fabulations”

But the users of TERN’s bioacoustics data aren’t all from the research world. Sound artists Nicolas Perret and Silvia Ploner (Island Songs) are using the data to develop a radio program consisting of 20 30-minute sound pieces on the theme of ‘science/non-science’.

“For the project we’ve chosen science that intrigue us and transgress a human-centered system of values and accepted borders of truth,” says Silvia.

“We want to explore and interrogate the interactions in-between humans and non-humans to unearth sonic fabulations by intertwining bio-acoustic monitoring, electronic music and words by human guests.”

“We wish to open perception to other variants of this world, to its plurality of knowledge forms and, therefore, to humbly open reflexions on what it is to be human and on the way we face the global ecological crisis.”

TERN has installed remotely controlled bioacoustic sensors at 21 sites across our nation-wide collaborative research infrastructure, including at research SuperSites at the Great Western Woodlands in WA (left) and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (right) (images courtesy of Suzanne Prober and Tim Wardlaw)


Published in TERN newsletter May 2017

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