One of the things that I love about citizen science is that it often starts with curiosity about something happening close to home. It could be a colorful insect on a tree in the yard or an unpleasant chemical smell from the field across the street. Our senses can tell us a lot about the world, and a recent post on Bloomberg BusinessWeek shared the journey of a company that was formed through listening to nature. Wildlife Acoustics was first inspired by birdwatching to create a song monitor for field use. Their Song Meter is a box well suited for rough weather, and with the help of the company’s Kaleidoscope software, the recorded data can be grouped into similar sounding clusters making research faster and easier.
What started out as something valuable for government and research facilities has now made its way down to citizen science with more affordable options. The company has infiltrated phone tech with apps for bird song identification and (surprise!) bat identification. The bat app takes a special mic plug-in that rewards you with a mini field guide of the bat heard. Identifying wildlife by sound is not just for fun; anyone that participates in bird counts will explain the importance of tracking number of species in an area in order to sense changes in populations. Changes can be due to many things including environmental toxins, predators and lately, temperature change. So, Wildlife Acoustics has become a star for those trying to understand the effects of climate change, whether it be by land or sea. Their devices have some surprising uses.
In the Amazon jungle, San Diego Zoo scientists are triangulating gunshots from a web of Song Meters to catch poachers. In Guam, researchers are using the recorders to rear baby Mariana crows, a breed whose number has dwindled to about 200. In Antarctica, the devices are sounding the alarm on calving glaciers.
We are living in challenging times, and the simple wearable tech we carry every day can be used for monitoring any number of creatures. Recording a sound and tagging it with a date and location is a great start to any citizen science project. Be sure to check out the Bloomberg post for more info, including a fun video about someone using the bat app in Central Park, New York. If you’d like to get a jump on an environmental monitor of your own, check out our learning guide for Monitoring PiCam and Temperature. Collect your own field data and find out what is happening in your backyard using Raspberry Pi.