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Scientists Are Recording 24-Hour Soundtracks of Rainforests

In the dense rainforest of Papua New Guinea's Adelbert Mountains, birds-of-paradise, flightless cassowaries, frogs and insects are constantly making noise. But as the forest gets more developed, that could be changing. A group from the Nature Conservancy is keeping tabs on the health of the ecosystem by listening to its soundtrack.

The researchers have been working with community groups in the region for 15 years, trying to help them establish land use plans that sustain the growing communities and the forest’s native flora and fauna in the face of logging, clearcutting and farming. They had been doing small-scale sound recording, but now, with new technology, the group is recording day-long tracks and using a new technique to analyze the sound they record.

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Bioacoustics give the researchers a broad picture of what’s going on in the ecosystem without them having to painstakingly count individual animals, the way they would in a traditional fauna survey.

“Sound is terrific because it captures a lot of stuff that is localized,” Game says. “We can look at indexes of sound as a gross measure of what’s happening in the landscape. Frogs, bats, insects, birds, they’re all vocalizing, and in an ideal intact forest, they all vocalize at different frequencies and patterns. As you lose species, you lose pieces of that spectrum.”

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