AI helps monitor forest biodiversity

German scientists have found that AI-assisted animal sound landscapes can be used as an effective tool to monitor forest biodiversity restoration after agricultural land abandonment. These findings point to a possible automated, cost-effective and reliable method for monitoring forest biodiversity and assessing restoration outcomes. The study was recently published in Nature Communications.

Large-scale monitoring of forest biodiversity is important for conservation, but requires cost-effective standardized tools. Research has shown that bioacoustics (the study of animal sound) is a promising tool when using soundscapes to detect animal communities. But there is still a great deal of uncertainty, such as whether these soundscapes also reflect the state of non-vocal animal species. There are also technical difficulties in combining traditional acoustic measurements and machine learning methods.

Jorg Muller of the University of Würzburg and collaborators tested a method to track tropical forest biodiversity with soundscapes. In Ecuador’s Choco region lowlands, they recorded animal sounds in the environment, from recently abandoned cocoa plantations and pastures to virgin forests. They combined expert identification of vocal animal species with two classes of automated methods, one of which used a deep learning model. The study found that both automated methods reflect the extent of the forest environment well.

The researchers also evaluated their sound-based results with a different type of ecological information, using DNA macrobarcoding to obtain data on insect diversity, mainly non-vocal species. Although the two databases do not match exactly, the results suggest that a combination of bioacoustics and deep learning holds promise for monitoring forest biodiversity. (Source: Feng Weiwei, China Science News)

The purple-breasted hummingbird is one of the birds that have recorded sound in tropical reforestation in Ecuador. Image courtesy of Martin Schaefer

The pantoque is one of the birds that has recorded sound in tropical reforestation in Ecuador. Photo by John Rogers

Sound recorder and automatic light trap, used to record sounds and insects at night. Photo by Annika Busse

The study area was in northern Ecuador. Image courtesy of Constance Tremlett

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