Bioacoustics look at animals in a slightly different and, for some, unusual way. It examines the behaviour of animals through their vocal communication, changes in evolution through the similarity or dissimilarity of the voices of related species or their hybrids, the long-term and short-term species composition of animals inhabiting different habitats and their changes through their vocal manifestations. Voices and vocalization of animals have become objects of interest, as we learn more about the secret life of rare, covertly living or nocturnal species. Of course, grateful model organisms are the most talkative in nature, such as grasshoppers, frogs and birds. However, more modern instruments allow us to detect obscurities such as the squeaking antipredatory reactions of caterpillars or the detailed principles of echolocation not only in the relationship of predator-prey. Bird singing has fascinated mankind since ancient times and it is not so surprising that a substantial part of bioacoustics research, including ours at the Center of Cognitive Ethology, is engaged in bird singing. There are lots of topics that we can address when we study bird singing.
- Communication between individuals (parent-offspring, siblings, partners – mating, rivals – territorial singing and territorial defence, neighbourly relations, nesting colonies,…)
- Ability to recognize conspecific voices, that is, of their own kind, from well known (neighbours) and unknown individuals. Or, on the other hand, recognition of heterospecific voices – closely related species but also unrelated species such as predators.
- The repertoire or variability of singing syllables is thoroughly explored in many species. However, more detailed research of repertoires, especially in singers, reveals its importance in individuality (individual syllables, song types) or individual belonging to a geographical area (dialects).
Nowadays, with the development of modern technologies, classical bioacoustics is being extended to other fields such as eco-acoustics and acoustic monitoring of vocalizing species. Compared to classical acoustics, they differ in methodology and research topics. For recording, we use automatic recording units (recorders), which record in nature without human presence and function as well as now well-known photo traps. They make it possible to discover and monitor rare species with night activity or timid species that are difficult to capture and visualize. This is a very new field of bioacoustics, and it brings a variety of pitfalls. The method itself is constantly evolving and together with informatics and engineers, we can be directly involved in the development of new electronic recorders and software for the processing of such recordings. This is a unique collaboration between biologists and engineers, which is pushing the boundaries of eco-acoustic possibilities at a staggering rate. We can already try some mobile apps to recognize recorded birds. The idea still only 10 years ago of sci-fi novels and progressive visionaries. Their perfection, however, constantly encounters problems of geographical variability and individuality in the vocalization of individual species.
People involved in this research:
- Alexandra Průchová
- Lucie Hornátová