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Podcast: It’s an ‘incredibly exciting’ time for the field of bioacoustics

  • On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we look at why it’s such an “incredibly exciting” time to be involved in the field of conservation bioacoustics — and we listen to some new and favorite wildlife recordings, too.
  • Our guest is Laurel Symes, assistant director of the K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology. Symes tells us about how a new $24 million endowment will allow the center to expand its support for bioacoustics research and technology around the world and why this field is poised to make a huge impact on conservation.
  • After our conversation with her, we listen to some of the most interesting bioacoustics recordings we’ve featured on the Mongabay Newscast, including the sounds of elephants, lemurs, gibbons, right whales, humpback whales, and frogs.

Today we take a look at the growing world of bioacoustics research and listen to a number of recordings of wildlife, from owls, lemurs, and elephants to seals, right whales, and humpbacks.

Listen here:

Many of the bioacoustics researchers who have appeared on this podcast in the past were supported by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Center for Conservation Bioacoustics at Cornell University in upstate New York, and our guest today is Laurel Symes, assistant director of that program, now called the K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics.

Thanks to a $24 million endowment gifted by K. Lisa Yang, a philanthropist and member of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s advisory board, the center now has that new name and will be able to expand its support for conservation bioacoustics research and technology around the world. Laurel Symes tells us about the impact this gift will have on their work and discusses a couple recent examples of how the field of bioacoustics is informing scientific research and conservation strategies.

“This is an incredibly exciting time to be part of the field of bioacoustics,” Symes says. “It’s a huge privilege and challenge and just an exciting time to be in this place, in this field, as we begin to think about what can we actually do over the next 15, to 30, to 50 years…it’s the sort of timescale that’s really going to be key to making technologies and approaches that people can use in conservation in a meaningful way to have an impact.”

We previously had Symes on the Mongabay Newscast back in January 2020 to talk about her own bioacoustics research focused on katydids in Central America. You can listen to that here:

After our conversation with her, we take a tour through some of the most interesting examples of bioacoustics that we’ve featured on this program. Here’s a list of those episodes and players set to begin at the start of each researcher’s interview:

“Listening to elephants to protect Central Africa’s tropical forests” (May 2020)

“Lemur love and award-winning plant passion in Madagascar” (November 2020)

“How listening to individual gibbons can benefit conservation” (November 2019)

“Humpback whales across the Pacific Ocean are singing the same song” (September 2019)

“Listen to the first-ever recordings of right whales breaking into song” (July 2019)

“Racing to save the world’s amazing frogs with Jonathan Kolby” (October 2018)

And here’s some further reading:

“Big bioacoustics boost: Cornell University program receives $24 million donation” (June 2021)

“Eavesdrop on forest sounds to effectively monitor biodiversity, researchers say” (January 2019)

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California spotted owl. Photo Credit: Connor Wood/Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001

Editor’s note: This story was supported by XPRIZE Rainforest as part of their five-year competition to enhance understanding of the rainforest ecosystem. In respect to Mongabay’s policy on editorial independence, XPRIZE Rainforest does not have any right to assign, review, or edit any content published with their support.

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