• Yellow rails are among the species researchers are tracking using bioacoustics

    Yellow rails are among the species researchers are tracking using bioacoustics. (Photo: Dominic Sherony/Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers at the University of Alberta are relying on sound rather than sight to monitor the effects of climate change on more than 230 species of wildlife in the province.

The university’s bioacoustic unit is using automated recording units to capture the sounds of animals such as birds and amphibians, which means it can monitor the status of a species in a particular area and over time.

“Technology has changed the way we survey for wildlife,” says Erin Bayne, the unit’s co-director and an associate professor in the university’s department of biological sciences. “In the past, we needed to put a person out in the field, but now we can be there at all times. If it makes a sound, we can track it. This can give us a whole new insight into animal behaviors.”

The recording technology will also allow researchers to track entire populations. “We can put the units in the field in February, before any animals arrive, and that way we can track their migration timing,” says Bayne. “We’re going to see migrating animals decline because they can’t keep up with climate change.”

Bayne started the bioacoustic project while monitoring yellow rails, a small, rare bird known for only singing at night, which makes it difficult to track. So he developed a recording technology to study the bird without being in the field.

The bioacoustic unit’s goal is not only to record species such as the yellow rail, but also identify each sound for an online public library. But doing so is going to be a long, challenging process.”We’re currently trying to get our computers to recognize the sounds,” says Bayne. “We’re training the software to recognize new animals, one species at a time.”