Ecologists have at last worked out a way of using recordings of birdsong to accurately measure the size of bird populations. This is the first time sound recordings from a microphone array have been translated into accurate estimates of bird species' populations. Because the new technique, reported in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology, will also work with whale song, it could lead to a major advance in our ability to monitor whale and dolphin numbers.
Developed by Deanna Dawson of the US Geological Survey and Murray Efford of the University of Otago, New Zealand, the technique is an innovative combination of sound recording with spatially explicit capture-recapture (SECR), a new version of one of ecologists' oldest tools for monitoring animal populations.
Birds communicate by singing or calling, and biologists have long counted these cues to get an index of bird abundance. But it is much harder to work out the actual density of a bird population because existing methods need observers to measure either the distance to each bird, or whether they are within a set distance from the observer. This is straightforward if birds are seen, but difficult when birds are heard but not seen.
According to Dawson: "We devised a way to estimate population density of birds or other animals that vocalise by combining sound information from several microphones. A sound spreading through a forest or other habitat leaves a 'footprint'. The size of the footprint depends on how quickly the sound attenuates. Mathematically, there is a unique combination of population density and attenuation rate that best matches the number and 'size' of the recorded sounds. We used computer methods to find the best match, and thereby estimate density."
Dawson and Efford developed the method by recording the ovenbird a warbler more often heard than seen in deciduous forest at the Patuxent Research Refuge near Laurel, Maryland, US
|Contact: Becky Allen|