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Purdue HEMA lab pioneers field of Soundscape Ecology

Purdue HEMA lab pioneers field of Soundscape Ecology

Brian Pijanowski, Professor at Purdue University in Landscape Ecology, is pioneering the emerging field of Soundscape Ecology, and he's using Wildlife Acoustics SM2 Song Meters to do so. According to Pijanowski, sounds can oftentimes be the first indicators in a host of changes facing a habitat.

Like an acoustic fingerprint, each environment has its very own sonic signature, and that signature is bound to change with changes in its diversity. Using these aural snapshots, scientists are able to see what's happening in a landscape over time. At first glance, it might seem obvious to track the sounds in an environment as a gauge of biodiversity and ecological impact.

“Over increasingly large areas of the United States, Spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song.”
       – Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

“If we disconnect with the sounds of nature, will we continue to respect and sustain nature?”
       – Brian Pijanowski

Yet, over 50 years after Rachel Carson warned of a “silent spring” in the not too distant future, there are just a handful of scientists focusing on soundscapes as an indicator of ecological change. Pijanowski emphasizes that it is not only important to listen to one type of sound (such as an isolated bird call) but to listen to the environment as a whole. He defines soundscape ecology as a combination of biophony, geophony, and anthrophony (biological, geophysical or non-biological ambient sounds, and human-produced) sounds.

Unlike the time when Silent Spring was published, we now have the technology to capture and store vast amounts of sound information. Pijanowksi’s team has taken full advantage of that and has been using Wildlife Acoustics Song Meters from the very beginning, starting with unit #28 off of our assembly line (which is still recording).

His team has now collected over 750,000 recordings and they’re just getting started. The Song Meters have been already been deployed long term in Tippecanoe county in Indiana, the desert, and the jungle. Just this summer, they added two sites (Megacity and Southern Pines) and future sites will include Cinque Terra and Borneo next year as well as Alaska the year after that. They’ve even started an Earth’s Full Spectrum study with 9 acoustics sensors (from geophones to ultrasonic monitors measuring sound in air, water, and even subterranean noise).There are also plans to partner with Perkin’s School of the Blind to offer a STEM education curriculum tied to soundscape ecology.

In other words, the field of Soundscape Ecology may be relatively new but it is taking off quickly and the possibilities are boundless! We are proud to be part of the exciting work that is taking place at the HEMA (Human-Environment Modeling and Analysis) lab and we can’t wait to see what’s next!

Read Pijanowski’s paper, “Soundscape Ecology” in BioScience:

Sound files from “Soundscape Ecology”:

For more information about Pijanowski and Soundscape Ecology: