‘Acoustic restoration’ ─ researchers define a new field in Environmental Science

25 JULY 2022

‘Acoustic restoration’ ─ researchers define a new field in Environmental Science

Charles Sturt University researchers propose a new way to benchmark and rejuvenate disturbed ecological communities and environments by focusing on the applied utility of soundscapes for restoration.

  • Charles Sturt University researchers propose a new way to benchmark and rejuvenate disturbed ecological communities and environments by focusing on the applied utility of soundscapes for restoration
  • The researchers suggest the intuitive idea that long-duration sound recordings offer both archival metrics for future comparisons and a way to connect people with place
  • By reframing the question ‘What does success look like?’ into ‘What does success sound like?’, acoustic restoration takes advantage of both the archival stability and information-dense attributes of long-duration recordings

Researchers at Charles Sturt University have proposed a new way to benchmark and rejuvenate ecological communities and environments disturbed or devastated by natural and man-made events and intrusions.

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Dr Liz Znidersic and Professor in Ecology David Watson in the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences, and the Gulbali Institute of Agriculture, Water and Environment presented their perspectives in the prestigious international journal Ecology Letters (July 2022).

They said measuring environmental health is deceptively difficult, balancing pros and cons of different monitoring methods with the need to compare future conditions to historic benchmarks.

The researchers ask, how can changes in water quality be ascribed to on-ground remediation rather than gradual change regardless of intervention? When can restoration of a site following mining or clear-fell logging be declared successful?

And with more people living apart from landscapes that sustain wildlife populations, how can the wider community engage with environment and build their own connections with country?

“We developed the intuitive idea that sound ─ specifically, long-duration recordings ─ offers both archival metrics for future comparisons and a deeply personal way to connect people with place,” Dr Znidersic said.

“With the advent of digital recording technology, using sound to monitor the environment is becoming commonplace.”


The researchers said Australian researchers have been at the forefront of this marriage between technology and environmental science.

For example, the Australian Acoustic Observatory represents the first continental-scale array of listening stations, taking the pulse of the environment and storing a high-fidelity archive of vital signs for future generations to analyse.

Dr Znidersic and Professor Watson take this idea several steps further, suggesting that the emerging science of eco-acoustics can also be applied to improve restoration success following bushfire and other large-scale disturbances.

“By broadcasting the sounds of a healthy habitat, surviving animals will be encouraged to find one another and recolonise those parts of the landscape with remaining habitat, minimising post-disturbance declines,” Professor Watson said.


“Although acoustic lures have long been used for target species in marine systems ─ to encourage seabirds to return to offshore islands following predator eradication or alerting whales and dolphins to avoid fishing gear ─ their use at the whole-of-community scale has never been attempted before.

“Crucially, passing animals need not linger long to improve environmental recovery.

“By increasing the numbers of individual animals passing through a disturbed area, the seeds and spores, bacteria and fungi they carry will re-inoculate the soil and watershed, fast-tracking recovery of entire food webs from the ground up.”

Dr Znidersic said the human dimension of environmental restoration is also explored, noting the difficulties that many groups face when determining whether a restoration project is completed.

“By reframing the question ‘What does success look like?’ into ‘What does success sound like?’, acoustic restoration takes advantage of both the archival stability and information-dense attributes of long-duration recordings,” she said.

“By comparing future soundscapes to recordings made before the mine was commissioned or the forest cut down, an objective and easily accessible measure of success can be agreed upon before a single sod has been turned.”

ENDS


Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Dr Elizabeth Znidersic and Professor David Watson contact Trease Clarke at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0409 741 789 or via news@csu.edu.au

Reference:

Znidersic, E, and Watson, D. Acoustic restoration: Using soundscapes to benchmark and fast-track recovery of ecological communitiesEcology Letters. Vol 25, Issue 7, July 2022.

The Gulbali Institute of Agriculture, Water and Environment is a strategic investment by Charles Sturt University to drive integrated research to optimise farming systems, enhance freshwater ecosystems and improve environmental management, to deliver benefits across Australia and globally.


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