Acoustic Monitoring: Automated Identification

Photo: Chris Damant

Acoustic Monitoring: Assessing the Impact of Restoration on Biodiversity through Acoustic Monitoring

Context & Opportunity

A primary focus of landscape restoration is facilitating the recovery of biodiversity and ecological functioning. However, monitoring changes in biodiversity over extended time periods and large geographical areas can be challenging. Low-cost methods that can be applied across different scales are needed to properly understand and assess the impacts of restoration projects on biodiversity. 

Acoustic surveys are becoming increasingly popular for monitoring biodiversity due to their low deployment costs, lack of observer bias and the wide range of taxa they can detect. However, processing acoustic data manually by looking through spectrograms is extremely time consuming and needs expert knowledge to identify species, which may be difficult to standardise and sustain over the timescales typically needed to monitor ecosystem restoration 

This project aimed to enhance the applicability of acoustic techniques to monitoring the effects of restoration on biodiversity, by building on an existing platform to enable automated acoustic identification of bats, focal species of birds, bush-crickets and small mammals across Europe.  

In particular, the project aimed to enable the acoustic identification of bats, a taxonomic group which are generally poorly surveyed due to their nocturnal behaviour. Bats can be a useful indicator of ecosystem restoration for a number of reasons: they are exclusively insectivorous in Europe, so high activity can indicate abundant food resources, most species are declining so are of conservation importance, and several species are associated with good quality and intact wetlands, which are often a habitat of restoration focus. 

Outputs and Achievements 

This project has developed a range of acoustic classifiers to allow automated species identification of bats from acoustic survey data throughout Europe. New classifiers were also developed for owls, curlew and other taxa. These classifiers were integrated in an existing platform, the BTO’s Acoustic Pipeline (bto.org/pipeline), broadening its taxonomic and geographical coverage to meet the needs of the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme projects. This will allow researchers and citizen scientists to upload recordings from acoustic surveys to a cloud-based processing environment for automated identification. 

Restoration projects can now gain advice on how to conduct acoustic monitoring, upload acoustic recordings, receive robust and transparent identification, and validate their results though the BTO Acoustic Pipeline. Supporting documentation and guidance were also developed, including: 

These tools will allow restoration projects to quantify how taxa that were previously extremely difficult (many nocturnal species) or expensive to monitor respond to restoration. 

In addition, the BTO supported five Restoration Landscapes funded by the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme to test the acoustic classifiers and pipeline in their landscapes. Over 500,000 recordings from these areas were processed by the pipeline. 

Project Partners

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)
APB
Foundation Conservation Carpathia
Rewilding Danube Delta
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
SABUKO

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