A Purdue University researcher is leading an effort to create a new scientific field that will use sound as a way to understand the ecological characteristics of a landscape and to reconnect people with the importance of natural sounds.
Soundscape ecology, as it’s being called, will focus on what sounds can tell people about an area. Bryan Pijanowski, an associate professor of forestry and natural resources and lead author of a paper outlining the field in the journal BioScience, said natural sound could be used like a canary in a coal mine. Sound could be a critical first indicator of environmental changes.
Pijanowski said sound could be used to detect early changes in climate, weather patterns, the presence of pollution or other alterations to a landscape.
“The dawn and dusk choruses of birds are very characteristic of a location. If the intensity or patterns of these choruses change, there is likely something causing that change,” Pijanowski said. “Ecologists have ignored how sound that emanates from an area can help determine what’s happening to the ecosystem.”
Part of his research will be to capture sounds that are being lost and attempting to restore their value to people. Pijanowski said natural sounds such as birds chirping, wind rustling through leaves and even the absence of noise not only have aesthetic significance, but also can give people valuable information about what’s happening around them.