Monitoring Nature

In a changing world 

Songs of Adaptation 

 

Songs of Adaptation is observing the natural world and documenting change. The world is changing. In order to adapt sustainably, communities must understand the context of our changing world. We must have quality, locally- applicable information to allow for evidence-based decision making. 

 

The Songs of Adaptation Project is part of Future Generations University’s Monitoring Nature initiative. The project brings together several data-collecting instruments to monitor life across gradients of elevation or land use. It fosters deeper understandings of ecosystem health and change at local levels. 

 

The first major installations are in biodiversity hotspots in remote areas of Nepal and Bolivia. In these locations, instrumentation continually monitors bioacoustics (life sounds), temperature, and humidity. Research stations are installed at regular intervals along gradients. The data generated by these stations are supplemented with vegetation surveys, wildlife photography, and historical data. 

 

Individual monitoring stations or a series of stations can be placed anywhere in the world through this initiative. Each will tell its own story of place and change therein. Future Generations has begun monitoring at two educational centers in the United States, on the Northernmost extremity of the Chesapeake Bay and at the highest point in West Virginia. There are also several smaller installations in areas including a tidal marsh and a riparian buffer zone restoration site at the headwaters of the Potomac River.

 

Over time, the data may reveal changing patterns emerging from human and natural causes. Each station produces about one terabyte (1 million megabytes) of audio data per year. Interpreting all that data requires cutting edge technology. 

 

Deep learning algorithms identify and categorize sounds from key species, which are often birds. Local experts help improve identification models and take the information back to communities.

 

The University is honored to be part of Microsoft’s AI for Earth grantee community, which supports our global team with cloud computing credits and project funds to develop machine learning models and big data analytics. The Songs of Adaptation team is also grateful for support from other anonymous and individual donors that has already helped this project come so far.

Songs of Adaptation team testing solar powered audio recorders at an ecological restoration site in West Virginia, USA.

The Data

 

Sound is an underutilized tool in documenting biodiversity worldwide. Microphones do not sleep, nor is there need to focus on animals in the right lighting to document their existence. All an animal needs to do to have its presence recorded is call out.

 

One research station, for example, placed in a forest in Maryland, set to a recording pattern of five-minutes-on, ten-minutes-off, captured more than 250,000 sounds in a month. Many were vocalizations from birds, amphibians, and insects. Through sound recordings, Nature can tell humans what is happening in a given ecosystem.

 

A sample chorus of songbirds (above right) was recorded in Nepal in 2017. The red visualization is an audio waveform that shows the amplitude of the sound over time. The green is a spectrogram; it shows the intensity of sound as well as frequency. Time stretches along the x-axis for both waveform and spectrogram in this example for 20 seconds.

 

In March 2019, five stations were installed in a complex of protected areas in Bolivia. The areas are adjacent to Madidi National Park, which has the highest biodiversity of any national park on Earth.

 

Two monitoring stations in the USA, one in a meadow, the other in dense spruce forest, report from Spruce Knob, the highest point in the Potomac River watershed, and in all of West Virginia. At the northernmost extent of the Chesapeake Bay in North East, Maryland,  NorthBay Education maintains a research station, which is tied to educational initiatives as well as data collection.

 

Development is underway on a growing number of sites in a new riparian buffer zone to document the recovery of species as a restored stream corridor is allowed to grow into a healthy ecosystem.

 

In the Mt. Everest ecosystem, in the Amazon, and in the Potomac, experimentation is also evolving to include the use of solar power to promote wider extension of the methodology in more research sites.

Image of bioacoustics data from Nepal in 2017.

Songs of Adaptation project has direct links to the SDGs

We promote hands-on learning experiences valuing biodiversity with school students and local community leaders. In partnership with outdoor education schools, the Songs team teaches biodiversity to students. With the iNaturalist app, students identify species in their communities and discuss the importance of diversity in their everyday lives. 

We are prototyping solar panel systems to implement in remote mountain locations. Utilizing cloud computing to monitor energy efficiency of research stations, big data is used to optimize solutions. The Songs team works with local businesses to source solar materials that will expand local alternative energy solutions.

 

We are partners with existing economies to employ local leaders. Each community is unique in how the tools we provide fit into their local economy. One might be utilizing the acoustic data to support local adventure tourism, another might partner with a neighboring national park to get global recognition for the park’s biodiversity.

 

We measure the acceleration of climate change worldwide in Bolivia, Nepal, and the United States. Songs works with governments and nonprofits in three countries, utilizing big data and community stories to inform systemic change. It is essential that decisions made for social change are based on strong evidence.

 

We gather baseline data in diverse ecozones. Monitoring stations are thoughtfully placed in diverse forests and rainforests as well as alpine, high altitude, and riparian zones. The data will allow for examination of changing patterns due to anthropogenic and natural causes. We strive to use this baseline data to protect biodiversity of communities and ecosystems globally.

 

Traveling to remote mountain villages, we see first-hand the challenges and successes of our local partners. Our team provides training in scientific concepts, electronics, English, and computer skills for collaboration with the growing global community.

Birds-Eye-View: 
To an inclusive & sustainable future

 

Future Generations defines community as a group of people who share something in common and have the potential to work and act together. This understanding provides a foundation to help communities grow. The data collected in diverse ecosystems in the Himalayas, the Amazon, and Eastern USA give rise to a global network of knowledge about climates and possible changes.

 

Stories from communities are a foundation for research. At every step of the process, communities have access to data. It is the goal of the Songs of Adaptation research project to respectfully include perspectives and stories of local communities in conjunction with advanced scientific monitoring techniques made possible by advancing technologies. This builds a compelling combination of accurate data with a lot of personality.

Preparing solar power for research stations in Nepal.

In 1802, the German scientist Alexander von Humboldt and his colleague, Aimé Bonpland, climbed Mt. Chimborazo in what is now Ecuador. As they ascended, they took careful barometric and temperature measurements. They linked these measurements to vegetation studies; they mapped from the lush jungle up to the alpine snows. A repeat survey of Chimborazo in 2012 found species had moved upslope an average of 1,500 vertical feet in 200 years!

In today’s era of accelerating climate change, Songs of Adaptation will advance an understanding of how communities everywhere can use evidence-based decisions to adapt to coming changes in climate.

Pushing Ahead

 

Deforestation is one of the most significant environmental changes occurring in Northern Bolivia. As land outside of the protected areas is altered by humans and stripped of forests, it is possible that the wildlife populations may shift their ranges. The singular monitoring station would record these changes over time.

 

If temperatures are shifting over time, then species may shift up altitude gradients. These changes would be recorded by the research installation at El Chocolatal. With these initial installations in Bolivian pilot studies, we are developing partnerships and planning to branch out into larger study sites across the vast natural lands of the country.  

 

Next Steps

  • Strengthened baseline data at key global sites

  • Scientific products that are engaging and accessible to all

  • More affordable and user-friendly equipment to set up new stations

  • Simpler software for non-specialists to analyze, query, and summarize data

  • Public media to distribute project progress and engage varied audiences

  • Income streams to financially support the projected growth

  • Development to meet the needs of both local and scientific communities

  • Strengthened local leadership

  • Community engagement and training

  • Science made actionable

  • Community-led adaptation initiatives

  • Growth of both US-based and international team

  • Involvement with more scientists

  • Engagement with additional community experts and specialists

Get Involved!

 

Our project, Songs of Adaptation, provides a platform for global engagement in telling the stories of our changing world. Scientific observations are coupled with community participation through two-way dialogue.

 

Support this work through participation or contribution. Your contributions can fund such things as community climate change awareness training, bioacoustic monitoring, a wildlife camera, or the development of a middle school curriculum.

 

Participate

As part of the global project, you will receive access to a standardized methodology and framework for participating in a scientific and community multi-dimensional dialogue. Data management, analysis, and summaries are part of this global framework.

 

Participation in the project is open to all. You can participate by contributing iNaturalist observations, installing a monitoring station in your backyard, or by creating a partnership for scientific observation and community engagement. We welcome all levels.

 

Host a Monitoring Station

High-level community engagement and training are part of hosting a monitoring station. Local partners (national, regional, local) are a must. If you are interested in this level of partnership, contact us to discuss potentials!

We’d love to add you to our global family that currently includes more than 20 locations in the United States, Nepal and Bolivia.

 

Educational Partners

Join our team of partners! You would be among a growing community of outdoor education schools, scout troops, landowners, and conservation groups.

 

Partnering with education organizations, we provide methodology, suggestions for placement of instrumentation, curriculum development, iNaturalist training, and general support.

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