Science & Environment

Audio software identifies rainforest life

Eleutherodactylus juanariveroi frog
Noisy species, such as this coqui frog, can now be easily identified from audio recordings made in rainforests

Scientists have found a new way to identify the animals that live in a rainforest.

A team from Puerto Rico has developed technology that can analyse audio recordings and automatically recognise creatures by the sounds they make.

The researchers said the software would make monitoring the life found in tropical ecosystems faster and easier for biologists.

The details are published in the journal PeerJ.

Lead researcher Dr Mitch Aide, from the University of Puerto Rico, said: "Acoustic recording devices have been around for a long time, but what hasn't been around is a way to manage and then analyse all of these recordings."

'Acoustic signature'

Scientists use audio recordings to get a snapshot of the rich life hidden away in a rainforest.

But until recently, the different species had to be identified manually, with researchers ploughing through hours of audio to decipher animal calls.

Dr Mitch Aide explained: "If a researcher had 50,000 one-minute recordings, it would take 833 hours to listen to them just once, no pausing."

The new technology was much faster, he said, and could process the same amount of audio in about an hour.

Using samples of different animal calls, the software creates an "acoustic signature" for each species.

With these, it can trawl through recordings to pinpoint any creatures that are there.

"One of the nice things about using vocalisations for monitoring is that we can collect much better data," explained Dr Aide.

"Because by leaving these recorders out in the field, 24 hours a day, weeks or even years on end, we can have a much better idea of activity patterns of many different species.

"Some of the limitations are that if a species doesn't make any sounds you are not going to capture it. But a large range of species - birds, animals, amphibians, marine mammals and insects - there are many species that we can monitor in this way."

In many forests now, researchers are setting up remote listening posts, where automated devices record a few minutes of audio every hour.

Dr Aide said the software, which works in real time, would help to reveal the creatures present at that moment as well as allow scientists to monitor how this picture changes over time.

"We have poor information on how climate change and land use change are affecting the distribution and abundance on species. We need to have good long-term data, not from just a few sites, but from sites all around the world," he explained.

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