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Durham University

Department of Biosciences

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Publication details for Professor Stephen G Willis

Bradfer-Lawrence, Tom, Bunnefeld, Nils, Gardner, Nick, Willis, Stephen G. & Dent, Daisy H. (2020). Rapid assessment of avian species richness and abundance using acoustic indices. Ecological Indicators 115: 106400.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Accelerating global shifts in climate and land use change are altering natural habitats and species assemblages, making management interventions crucial to halt the biodiversity crisis. Management decisions must be informed by accurate biodiversity assessments. However, such assessments are often time consuming, expensive, and require specialist knowledge. Monitoring environmental sound may offer a novel method for rapid biodiversity assessment. Changes in species assemblages at a given location are reflected in the site’s acoustic energy, termed the soundscape. Soundscapes can be readily described using acoustic indices; metrics based on objective features of recordings such as pitch and amplitude. Changes in acoustic indices values may therefore reflect changes in species assemblages, alerting land managers to shifts in wildlife populations. However, thus far, evidence supporting the use of acoustic indices in biodiversity monitoring has been equivocal. Here, we test the practical application of acoustic indices for biodiversity monitoring while solving methodological issues and providing conceptual clarity.

Using 84 h of audio recordings covering 315 dawns from 43 sites, coupled with bird assemblage and vegetation data collected in the field, we demonstrate strong relationships between acoustic indices and avian species richness and abundance. In contrast with many previous studies, we found that sites with high bird species-richness and abundance had less even soundscapes (i.e. acoustic energy was less evenly distributed among frequencies) compared with sites with low species richness and abundance. Crucially, these patterns were coherent across multiple acoustic indices, and across habitat types, emphasising their utility for monitoring. Acoustic indices sensitive to the frequencies at which birds sing are most useful for monitoring avian communities; the Acoustic Evenness Index, Biophony Index, and the biophony component of the Normalised Difference Soundscape Index exhibited the strongest relationship with species richness. Land managers can use acoustic indices for biodiversity monitoring, complementing other, more established, assessment methods.