The call of the wild: Investigating the potential for ecoacoustic methods in mapping wilderness areas

Sci Total Environ. 2019 Dec 10:695:133797. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.133797. Epub 2019 Aug 6.


The critical importance of wilderness areas (WAs) for biodiversity conservation and human well-being is well established yet mapping criteria on which WA management policies are based take neither into account. Current WA mapping methods are framed in terms of absence of anthropogenic influence, and created using visual satellite data, obviating consideration of the ecological or anthropogenic value of WAs. In this paper we suggest that taking the acoustic environment into account could address this lacuna. We report the first investigation into the potential for ecoacoustic methods to complement existing geophysical approaches. Participatory walks, including in situ questionnaires and ecoacoustic surveys were carried out at points along transects traversing urban-wilderness gradients at four study sites in the Scottish Highlands and French Pyrenees. The relationships between a suite of six acoustic indices (AIs), wilderness classifications and human subjective ratings were examined. We observed significant differences between five out of six AIs tested across wilderness classes, demonstrating significant differences in the soundscape across urban-wild gradients. Strong, significant correlations between AIs, wilderness classes and human perceptions of wildness were observed, although magnitude and direction of correlations varied across sites. Finally, a compound acoustic index is shown to strongly predict mapped wildness classes (up to 95% variance explained MSE 0.22); perceived wilderness and biodiversity are even more strongly predicted. Together these results demonstrate that the acoustic environment varies significantly along urban-wild gradients; AIs reveal details of environmental variation excluded under current methods, and capture key facets of the human experience of wildness. An important next step is to ascertain the ecological and anthropogenic relevance of these differences, and develop new automated acoustic analysis methods suited to mapping the environmental characteristics of WAs. Taken together, our results suggest that future management of WAs could benefit from ecoacoustic methods to take the biosphere and anthroposphere into account.

Keywords: Biodiversity; Conservation; Participatory mapping; Soundscape; Urban-wild interface; Wilderness.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustics
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Wilderness