Rapid acoustic survey for biodiversity appraisal

PLoS One. 2008;3(12):e4065. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004065. Epub 2008 Dec 30.


Biodiversity assessment remains one of the most difficult challenges encountered by ecologists and conservation biologists. This task is becoming even more urgent with the current increase of habitat loss. Many methods-from rapid biodiversity assessments (RBA) to all-taxa biodiversity inventories (ATBI)-have been developed for decades to estimate local species richness. However, these methods are costly and invasive. Several animals-birds, mammals, amphibians, fishes and arthropods-produce sounds when moving, communicating or sensing their environment. Here we propose a new concept and method to describe biodiversity. We suggest to forego species or morphospecies identification used by ATBI and RBA respectively but rather to tackle the problem at another evolutionary unit, the community level. We also propose that a part of diversity can be estimated and compared through a rapid acoustic analysis of the sound produced by animal communities. We produced alpha and beta diversity indexes that we first tested with 540 simulated acoustic communities. The alpha index, which measures acoustic entropy, shows a logarithmic correlation with the number of species within the acoustic community. The beta index, which estimates both temporal and spectral dissimilarities, is linearly linked to the number of unshared species between acoustic communities. We then applied both indexes to two closely spaced Tanzanian dry lowland coastal forests. Indexes reveal for this small sample a lower acoustic diversity for the most disturbed forest and acoustic dissimilarities between the two forests suggest that degradation could have significantly decreased and modified community composition. Our results demonstrate for the first time that an indicator of biological diversity can be reliably obtained in a non-invasive way and with a limited sampling effort. This new approach may facilitate the appraisal of animal diversity at large spatial and temporal scales.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustics
  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Ecosystem
  • Trees
  • Vocalization, Animal*