The XXV International Bioacoustics Congress was held in Murnau, Germany from 7th-12th September 2015, with a packed programme of papers, keynotes, posters and events. The River Listening team presented two posters on the project, which are also featuring during the River Listening Lab at the 2016 World Science Festival in Brisbane, Australia.
“ Our mission is to do world-class science that improves our understanding of catchment, river, estuarine and coastal ecosystems; to provide a creative and collaborative environment that fosters the next generation of ecosystem scientists; and to provide the knowledge to support the sustainable use and conservation of the world’s natural resources.”
One of the most exciting aspects of River Listening is the opportunity to collaborate with The Australian Rivers Institute (ARI) in Brisbane. While River Listening revolves around field work with ARI scientists across South East Queensland, we are also exploring ways to integrate our outcome into existing ARI research projects.
The Australian Rivers Institute is Australia’s largest university aquatic ecosystem research group with globally recognised expertise in river, catchment and coastal ecosystems and the interaction of these systems with society. The institute brings together 130 staff and researchers at the Nathan and Gold Coast campuses of Griffith University. Their international reputation is evident in being a founding member of the International Water Centre and holding seats on a number of international water management committees, such as the Global Water System Project, and Diversitas. The research conducted at the ARI provides the knowledge to underpin the sustainable management of aquatic ecosystems and ARI researchers have initiated a series of interdisciplinary research projects, including creative collaborations, that have been recognised internationally.
Their research focuses on a “source to sea” philosophy, delivering through six themes:
Catchment and river ecosystem processes
Coastal and estuarine ecosystem processes
Restoration science and environmental flows
Aquatic ecosystem monitoring and assessment
Aquatic biodiversity and conservation
Integration and adoption
Through its leaders and researchers, the Institute is proactive in national and international water science planning and research bodies. Freshwater conservation planning is an area of emerging strength at ARI. Dr Simon Linke, Dr Virgilio Hermoso and Dr Mark Kennard are at the forefront of pioneering research to identify conservation and management priorities to sustain freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity. Adapting and applying systematic planning principles to the unique challenges posed by freshwater environments, they have developed novel techniques for integrating spatial and temporal hydrologic connectivity and other important ecological processes into the spatial prioritization process.
The scientific grounding of the River Listening collaboration is led by ARI Senior Research Fellow Dr Simon Linke, one of Australia’s leading freshwater conservation scientists, whose pioneering work in biomonitoring and river conservation planning has been used by agencies and NGOs from South East Queensland to the Congo. Dr Linke’s current research interests include environmental planning and real-time ecology using movement tracking, bioacoustics and environmental DNA.
An iconic building and the headquaters of the Australian Rivers Institute, the Sir Samuel Griffith Centre is Australia’s first teaching and research building powered by a combination of photovoltaics and hydrogen. The centre has been awarded a 6-star green rating by the Green Building Council of Australia.
The building exemplifies Griffith University’s mission to provide world leading technology, facilities and resources enabling the finest minds to strive for great outcomes in education and research – all founded on a non-negotiable commitment to environmental sustainability.
Griffith long-standing international reputation for excellence in environmental research helps it play a leading role in managing water resources with a focus on freshwater, estuarine and urban water. Australian Rivers Institute researchers have developed a set of ecosystem health assessment tools for measuring conservation efforts in producing South-East Queensland’s annual Healthy Waterways Report Card. They have also revolutionised work in wastewater testing and identified new methods for river monitoring. The River Listening team is looking forward to expanding this project in collaboration with ARI in the future.
In our current state of environmental crisis, biodiversity assessment is critical to understanding the rapid ecological changes taking place across the globe. In the last ten years, there has been a strong emergence of non-invasive monitoring involving auditory recordings of the environment. This emerging field is commonly referred to as soundscape ecology and shares many parallels with other fields, including bioacoustics. Soundscape ecology has an array of creative possibilities that have been deeply explored by practitioners including Bernie Krause. The literature suggests it will continue expanding within scientific fields, with a particular focus on the importance of soundscape conservation, the impact of noise pollution, and the value of soundscapes to assist with biodiversityanalysis. There are now a growing number of international projects and scientific institutions embracing methods of bioacoustics in biodiversity analysis of aquatic environments.
River Listening is a practice-led interdisciplinary collaboration of freshwater biodiversity, virtual technologies, soundscape ecology and environmental sound art to explore methods of hydrophonic recording, soundscape analysis and virtual dissemination. Despite the rapidly growing interest in emerging auditory fields such as bioacoustics, there is yet to be standardised approaches to field recording and interpreting the data. While scientists have developed advanced software tools for species recognition, there is a growing need to consolidate the available tools and explore the value of listening to the data in new ways. There are also exciting possibilities to make this data available for a wider audience through digital technology and creative collaborations.
The River Listening Synapse residency specifically involves field labs on the identified rivers experimenting with various hydrophonic recording techniques and sound processing. The labs each involve a three-week immersive engagement process, which is based on a methodology developed during my doctoral research. The labs involve three daily recording sessions; sunrise, midday and dusk. Each recording session is approximately two hours, with a custom-made quadrophonic hydrophone rig attached to a moving kayak. These recordings are databased onsite, and made available online for analysis at the Australian Rivers Institute.
In addition to the kayak recordings, other field kits are distributed on location to capture sounds without human intervention. These include a stationary hydrophone that records from the same location during the entire field lab and a series of smaller field kits to capture the soundscapes above the water. The additional field kits are useful to analyse particular sound sources in the hydrophone recordings that might be difficult to identify. The recording sessions are accompanied by community workshops and creative development experiments involving streaming and processing the hydrophone recordings. The team will facilitate a range of community events and will also collaborate with existing programs in each river community.
The field labs are designed in an open format and encourage collaborations with the local community. The future outcomes will be made available through a virtual sound map and public listening sessions in Queensland, Australia. The database of recordings will form the foundation for a series of experiments at the Australian Rivers Institute to explore new methods in understanding and analysing the data from a scientific and creative perspective.
I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with The Australian Rivers Institute (ARI) on River Listening. The Australian Rivers Institute is Australia’s largest university aquatic ecosystem research group with globally recognised expertise in river, catchment and coastal ecosystems. ARI is currently leading a range of innovative projects revolving around catchment and river ecosystem processes, aquatic biodiversity and conservation, and aquatic ecosystem monitoring and assessment.
While I’m working with several researchers at ARI, the scientific grounding of the River Listening collaboration is directed by ARI Senior Research Fellow Dr Simon Linke, one of Australia’s leading freshwater conservation scientists, whose pioneering work in biomonitoring and river conservation planning has been used by agencies and NGOs from South East Queensland to the Congo. Simon has a strong interest in bioacoustics and was introduced to me Dr Toby Gifford, a music technologist from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. Dr Gifford is a world-leader in real-time audio processing, machine listening and automated musical scene description who has worked with the ARI to explore future frameworks for a real-time bioacoustic wildlife population monitoring network for Australian waterways. We hope some of the results from River Listening can be incorporated into the broader aquatic bioacoustics visions of ARI in the future.
As the international interest in the emerging auditory fields of bioacoustics and acoustic ecology continues to expand, there are clear opportunities to harness virtual technologies to develop accessible community engagement around the creative and scientific possibilities of listening to the environment. River Listening provides a model to develop a truly interdisciplinary approach at the critical stage of creative development and it is anticipated the future results will be beneficial to national ecosystem monitoring programs. I also hope that River Listening could become a catalyst for community engagement and interdisciplinary thinking at a time when the conservation and management of aquatic ecosystems is a critical priority. At the conclusion of the River Listening labs in Queensland, the research team hope to expand this project across Australia and beyond.
River Listening is a research collaboration between independent artist Dr. Leah Barclay and the Australian Rivers Institute to explore new methods for acoustically monitoring four Queensland river systems: the Brisbane River, the Mary River, the Noosa River and the Logan River. The project involves the establishment of site-specific listening labs to experiment with hydrophonic recording and sound diffusion to measure aquatic biodiversity including fresh-water fish populations – a key indicator of river health. River Listening fundamentally explores the creative possibilities of aquatic bioacoustics and the potential for new approaches in the management and conservation of global river systems.
In 2014, The Australian Rivers Institute (ARI) and
Dr. Leah Barclay were awarded a prestigious Synapse grant to support the development of River Listening. Synapse is an initiative of the Australia Council for the Arts and the Australia Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) that supports collaborations between artists and scientists in Australia. This project extends Barclay’s long-term engagement in acoustic ecology to explore the creative possibilities of aquatic bioacoustics in collaboration with an interdisciplinary research team.