Reviving a forest ecosystem after it has been exploited is not always easy. It can take a lot of hard work and careful monitoring to make sure biodiversity thrives again.
But biodiversity monitoring can be expensive, intrusive and resource-intensive. This is where the methods of ecological acoustic surveys, or “ecoacoustics”, come in.
Indeed, the planet sings. Think of the calls of the birds, echolocation batstree leaves fluttering in the breeze, croaking frogs and bush crickets stridulating. We live in a euphonic theater of life.
Even the ground creatures below our feet emit unique vibrations as they navigate through the earth to move, hunt, feed and mate.
Eavesdropping on this subterranean cacophony using special microphones can provide researchers with important information about the health of the ecosystem.
OUR new study Posted in Restoration ecology shows that ecoacoustics can provide an effective way to monitor biodiversity in the soil and in the forest it supports.
What did the study do?
Acoustic technology is widely used to monitor bats, birds, and other creatures. However, scientists restoring degraded ecosystems have yet to fully exploit soil ecoacoustics.
This is despite its demonstrable effectiveness in detecting small animal vibrations.
Our study applied ecoacoustic tools to measure biodiversity above and below ground in a UK forest. We hypothesized that soils from restored forests would have greater sound diversity than soils from recently deforested plots.
This is because we assumed that more creatures would live in the restored and “healthier” soils, producing a greater variety of sounds that we would detect.
Think of two symphony orchestras. Half of the musicians in an orchestra have fallen ill and cannot play at the concert. This is analogous to a degraded ecosystem. On the other hand, the other orchestra has all its members and will therefore be stronger, with more complex and diversified sounds.
During the spring and summer of 2022, we collected 378 samples from three recently cleared forest plots and three restored forest plots. We created a recording system with special “contact” microphones that we inserted into the ground.
We used a chamber with sound deadening foam inside to record ground creatures such as earthworms and beetles.
This chamber allowed us to block out unwanted signals such as mechanical noise, wind and human activity. The chamber housed the microphone and a 5 liter soil sample from each plot.
Our results were exciting. Sound diversity was much higher in the soil of the restored plots.
This discovery confirmed our suspicions that healthier soil would be more melodious.
Why is soil health monitoring important?
Our preliminary results suggest that ecoacoustics can monitor subterranean life. But why is soil biodiversity monitoring so important?
Soil health is the foundation of our food systems and supports all others life on earth. This should be a global priority.
The “invisible” and “unheard of” organisms living in the soil maintain its health. Subterranean organisms, such as earthworms and beetles, play a crucial role in nutrient cycle and soil health. Without them, forests cannot thrive.
By using ecoacoustics to monitor belowground biodiversity, ecologists can better assess the effectiveness of restoration efforts. This will allow them to make more informed decisions about the best ways to protect nature.
The use of ecoacoustics in restoration efforts could also have important implications for climate change mitigation. Forests are crucial carbon sink. They absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in their woody biomass and soils.
On the other hand, degraded or deforested areas are important sources of carbon dioxide emission.
Restoring these areas and monitoring life below can help reduce carbon emissions and improve our ability to reduce the effects of climate change.
It’s still an emerging science
The use of ecoacoustics in restoration efforts is still relatively new, but it is an important step towards a more holistic and effective approach to ecosystem restoration.
By adopting new technologies and approaches, we can work towards a healthier and more sustainable planet.
Of course, we still have challenges ahead. For example, accurately identifying sources of acoustic signals in a complex soundscape can be difficult. However, as technologies and methods continue to improve, the potential benefits of ecoacoustics are immense.
By monitoring subterranean life in a non-intrusive and effective way, we can better understand the effectiveness of our restoration efforts. This will help us make more informed decisions about how to protect nature.
We have only just begun to scratch the surface when it comes to the possibilities of ecoacoustics in restoration efforts. It’s an exciting time for those working in this field, as we discover new ways to use sound to heal our planet.
Jake M Robinsonecologist and researcher, flinders university; carlos abrahamslecturer in environmental biology – director of bioacoustics, Nottingham Trent UniversityAnd Martin RaceLecturer in Biology, flinders university
This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.