Using Song Meters to Count Frog Populations

Most people don’t think of dragging microphones and audio equipment into a nature area when they think of animal conservation. This is becoming an increasingly popular task, however, for conservation groups and scientists alike. Using the advances in technology and data tracking, researchers can now sift through huge amounts of information to learn more about individual species, their habitats, and what threats they are under in their natural environments.

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One such example of the crossroads between big data and conservation is in the fight to save the dwindling numbers of red-legged frogs in California. The red-legged frogs are the state amphibian in California, made popular by Mark Twain’s short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” The species is endangered as its territory shrinks, a combination of human activity and natural predators squeezing them out of the way.

Conservationists are using cameras, acoustic sensors, and other audio recording devices to isolate the sounds of the red-legged frog among the cacophony of other nocturnal amphibians in the Watsonville Slough in Santa Cruz County. The red-legged frog makes a low sound, easily drowned out by the higher pitched calls of other creatures that make the slough their home.

California Red-legged Frog Photo Credit: G. Fellers, U.S. Geological Survey

California Red-legged Frog
Photo Credit: G. Fellers, U.S. Geological Survey

Red-legged frogs are a focus of conservation efforts. Groups protect their eggs with mesh wire, and population counts are carried out frequently to see if efforts are working. Recordings are being used to pick out individual red-legged frog sounds in order to determine where they are living, how many there are, and if their numbers are decreasing or increasing.

As big data is more fine-tuned to the issues facing animal conservation more and more researchers will likely take advantage of the sheer data-crunching abilities many of these methods offer. Big data companies are able to create algorithms that pick out specific data sets and analyse them, creating an inexpensive and relatively efficient way to learn more about the world around us.

More: 

Conservationists Use Microphones and Big Data to Count Disappearing Frogs, KQED Science, April 15, 2016.

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