Wildlife research with microphones


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Agriculture & Climate Change, Malaysia (Commonwealth Union) – The monitoring of sound in environmental research has become more frequent in recent times with the observation of specific patterns of animal sounds or even the lack of them. These changes in sounds can give environmental researchers a stepping stone to monitor specific patterns and the presence or absence of certain animal sounds which can indicates the presence of  the species.

Scientists have demonstrated how sounds recorded by low-cost microphones can be utilized to aid the monitoring infectious disease risks in the rainforest and in other fast changing landscapes.

The research that appeared in Trends in Parasitology and led by the University of Glasgow, has outlined the way by which listening to the sounds of an ecosystem, we can gain an understanding of possible factors driving the spread of disease between animals and humans.

The study is the result of a collaboration between researchers from the University of Glasgow in the UK, Danau Girang Field Centre in Malaysia and Rainforest Connection, an NGO applying sound recording in tracking endangered species and provides real-time alerts to avoid poaching along with illegal logging in the rainforests.

The monitoring of illegal activity, Rainforest Connection utilizes microphones to identify human noise in the forest. This is not specific to speech, but stays alert for sound activity such as chainsaws, gunshots, or movement across the forest.

The scientists defined how this acoustic monitoring, which is an economical non-invasive device that may also be effectively applied in enhancing early warning systems as well as upgrading disease surveillance.

By keeping track of the sounds made by animals, researchers can identify alterations in wildlife that can affect human disease risk. An example, is keeping track of the alterations in frequency of animal calls to note mass mortality in wildlife as a result of a disease outbreak as indicated by researchers.

Acoustic data may be utilized to detect alterations in the area or behaviors of animals in locations where zoonotic diseases are heavily present and can present a risk to other humans and animals. Even though acoustic tracking will not replace presently used field-based procedures utilized to monitor disease risk, the scientists indicated that it can be a novel and useful tool when applied in collaboration with present methods.

Passive acoustic monitoring that is generally applied in wildlife conservation, where it is applied in investigating population dynamics as well as behavioral patterns of animals making noises that include sounds undetectable to humans, such as echolocation.

The work with Danau Girang Field Centre in Malaysian Borneo, saw the study show how acoustic tracking can be utilized to track the spread of zoonotic malaria that can go from monkeys to mosquitoes to humans.

For mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, the identification of human activity in a time where mosquitos have increased activity. This may indicate increased disease risk and be utilized to mark where humans have been exposed to infectious mosquitoes. Inside the Malaysian rainforest and plantation areas, the scientists have established an acoustic monitoring grid to note when monkeys go into areas having mosquitos.

For locations undergoing increased deforestation along with intensive agriculture, patterns of disease risk is fast changing. the researchers indicated how, by placing acoustic devices in various landscapes, from virgin jungle to oil palm plantations, they can start to unpick the associations between land utilization and human health.

Emilia Johnson, of the University of Glasgow, School of Biodiversity, One Health and Veterinary Medicine, says “Emerging infectious diseases pose a significant burden on global public health, and there is a need to better understand diseases that crop up at the boundaries where human activity and wildlife habitats meet.

“Sound recording provides an opportunity to collect and analyse useful data in real-time and over very broad scales; in this way, acoustic surveys can complement existing surveillance methods and offer important new insight into the dynamic ecosystems that underpin infectious disease epidemiology.”


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