News / Science & Technology

New Software Tells Who's in the Forest and Who Isn't

In this March 21, 2013 photo, Ana Longo, a researcher with Proyecto Coqui, holds a Coqui or Common Coqui in a tropical forest in Patillas, Puerto Rico.
In this March 21, 2013 photo, Ana Longo, a researcher with Proyecto Coqui, holds a Coqui or Common Coqui in a tropical forest in Patillas, Puerto Rico.
Megan McGrath
Researchers have developed software that can listen to recordings of a rainforest and tell us what animals are there, and importantly, what animals are not. The new technology is free online for anyone to use and conservationists are taking advantage of it.

Software Tells Who's in the Forest and Who Isn't
Software Tells Who's in the Forest and Who Isn'ti
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

If you listen closely to a recording of a rainforest in Puerto Rico, you probably will not be able to count how many frogs you hear.  Unfortunately, one of those frogs - the one with the really high-pitched chirps, like tapping on glass - is called a Plains Coqui, and it is endangered.

Scientists struggle with this problem every day. Thousands of species die out each year, and they want to know how climate change and habitat destruction are affecting animals like the Plains Coqui. But how can scientists know if they’re dying out if they don’t even know how many there are?

That’s where the Automated Remote Biodiversity Monitoring Network, or ARBIMON, comes in.

“It’s a generic system to monitor biodiversity," said Mitchell Aide of the University of Puerto Rico, who is one of the leaders of the ARBIMON team. The team has developed new technology that could help conservationists monitor biodiversity worldwide.

"The software is set up for the user to use it for whatever species they’re interested in, it could be snapping shrimp, or whales, or it could be frogs or insects or monkeys,” Aide added.  

Researchers place small, inexpensive sound recorders - often reprogrammed iPods - in the rainforest, where they take short sound samples every 10 minutes around the clock. The recordings are sent in real time to a central computer.

The scientists program the computer to recognize the sounds of different animals in the recordings, and then they let the software run. It can analyze tens of thousands of recordings in less than an hour, and tell researchers which animals are in the rainforest, which aren’t, who’s making sounds when and who’s not.

For example, when researchers looked at five years of recordings in Puerto Rico, they noticed that the endangered frog called less and less over four years. This could be cause for alarm, but in the fifth year the frog's appearance in the samples bounced back to its original levels. This information about what appears to be the frog population's natural rhythm would not have been available without long-term data.

The team now has recording stations in Hawaii, Arizona, Costa Rica, Brazil and many other locations. Over months or even years, Aide says scientists can build a sound picture of the landscape, and what lives there.

“We’re creating a permanent record," he said. "In a sense, each recording is the equivalent of a specimen in a museum. We’re going to archive these recordings so anybody can have access to them today, or in five years, or in 20 years, and go back and say, ‘What were the sounds like in this forest, in this city, on this island, 15, 20 years ago?’”

The ARBIMON software and its archive of sound is freely available to everyone, scientists and citizens alike, at arbimon.com.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs