A Queensland University of Technology (QUT) research team is helping
ecologists dramatically slash the time and cost of following the twitter of
native birds in order to monitor the effects of climate change.
Until recently, Australian ecologists wanting to identify the presence or
absence of wildlife to take the temperature of the changing environment have
had to spend days in isolated regions, watching and listening for species in
all kinds of weather.
The QUT team, working with the QUT Institute for Sustainable Resources
(ISR), gave them a helping hand by developing automated acoustic sensors,
placed in the bush to record environmental sounds which are then transmitted
to an online digital library.
But ecologists still faced the prospect of sifting through many hours of
recordings and isolating bird calls from other sounds like wind and rain -
The QUT team has taken the inspired approach of developing high-tech
software and combining it with 'people power' to quickly run over the data
and determine the number and type of birds on the recording.
"The software filters through the audio and isolates the parts where it can
identify potential species amid the cacophony," said QUT PhD researcher
"People are much better at identifying species than computers, so we leave
the final analysis up to the human brain. We post the audio segments our
software has identified as containing potential species online and ask the
birdwatching community to have a go at telling us what they are."
Early trials have had fantastic results. Roughly twice as many species have
been detected using this approach than traditional surveys with people in
In one recent experiment, while trained observers were able to detect 35
bird species using traditional bird survey methods, the acoustic sensors and
software employed by Wimmer picked up 61 birds in the same area.
"We can record the data using inexpensive MP3 recorders or we can upload it
via the 3G network," Wimmer said.
"The most expensive part was analysing the data. But we can reduce this cost
by using a 'citizen science' approach and harnessing the enormous resource
of birdwatchers - which I'm told is one of the fastest growing hobbies in
Wimmer and his team verify the expertise of the 'citizen scientists'
analysing the data by asking them to sit a test. They then select five
people to analyse the audio and accept the majority view.
"We hope to eventually have these acoustic sensors placed all over Australia
continuously streaming live data. By speeding up the analysis of that data,
ecologists will get a deeper and more current snapshot of climate change,"
"Birds are indicator species which are sensitive to changes in the
environment. If we can find out if there are changes going on in the
composition of species, we can respond quickly to ecological alarm bells."
*Media Contact: Katrina Blowers, QUT Media Officer, 07 3138 2999 or
*Ian Eckersley, QUT Media Manager, 07 3138 2361/ 0432 754 897 or
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