Listening in: Acoustic monitoring devices detect illegal hunting and logging

A network of small acoustic monitoring devices alerts rangers in case they register sounds of shotguns or chainsaws. Photo: University of Southampton

Ecologists from the University of Southampton (UK) and Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (Mexico) have been studying the presence and distribution of the elusive jaguar and puma in three contiguous regions of protected and unprotected forest in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

Camera traps and analysis of faeces revealed that jaguars and pumas prefer to prey on peccaries, deer and coati – species that are regularly hunted by local communities for their wild meat.

“Rural communities living near these nature reserves manage the natural resources in their communal lands, known as ejidos. Subsistence hunting of game meat and logging by residents is permitted in the ejidos, but there are no effective measures in place to regulate the hunting pressure”, says Evelyn Piña Covarrubias from the University of Southampton.

“Habitat fragmentation due to increased livestock production and reduced availability of their primary prey is a major threat to these big cats. Also, they are frequently killed in retaliation for lost livestock or by poachers as there is still demand for the jaguars’ uniquely spotted coats”, she adds.

Today, an estimated 6,000 jaguars inhabit less than 40% of the area they used to in Mexico, whilst little information is available on puma populations due to difficulties in identifying individuals. Unlike jaguars, pumas do not have unique spot patterns.

Although two of the sites studied are privately managed reserves, conservation efforts are often delayed by lack of data and insufficient budgets or personnel to detect and report illegal activities.

To this end, the researchers tested prototypes of ‘AudioMoth’, a low-power open-source acoustic monitoring device. The size of a matchbox and costing as little as US$43 per unit, the loggers can be configured to record sounds of human exploitation (shotguns and chainsaws) as well as target species in order to monitor biodiversity. The team’s findings were published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution on 14.12.2017.

The final product is being designed to transmit a real-time alert to park rangers with information about the type of sound and its location.

Evelyn says: “Protected areas across the Yucatán Peninsula are far too under-resourced to afford effective and safe patrols of the vast tracts of natural forests. Most acoustic loggers on the market are too expensive for network deployments or have a short battery life.”

“With AudioMoth, local rangers and managers will have access to a monitoring system covering potentially large areas and can act immediately on alerts.”

The device has been developed by Andrew Hill and Peter Prince, two PhD students in computer science at the University of Southampton, in collaboration with Professor Alex Rogers from the University of Oxford.

Evelyn Piña Covarrubias will present her team’s work at the ‘Ecology across Borders’ annual meeting in Ghent on Thursday, 14 December 2017.

This year’s conference is jointly organised by the Gesellschaft für Ökologie (the Ecological Society of Germany, Switzerland and Austria), the British Ecological Society, and Dutch-Flemish Ecological Society (NecoV), in association with the European Ecological Federation, bringing together 1,500 ecologists from around 60 countries to discuss the latest advances in ecological research across the whole discipline.

– Ends –

Links to Ressources:
AudioMoth:
https://www.openacousticdevices.info/

Ecology Across Borders – Joint annual meeting of GfÖ, BES, NecoV and EEF:
http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/events/annual-meeting-2017/

For information about this study and/or to arrange an interview with the speaker, please contact:
Evelyn Piña Covarrubias, University of Southampton, Email: epc1g14@soton.ac.uk; Mobile: +44 (0)7787 764 493
Professor C. Patrick Doncaster, University of Southampton, Email: cpd@soton.ac.uk, Tel: +44 (0)238 059 4352

For information on the meeting or to request press access, please contact:

Juliane Röder, Press Officer, Ecological Society of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Email: presse@gfoe.org, Tel: +49 (0)6421 28 23381, Mobile: +49 (0)179 64 68 958

High-resolution images are available on request.

The ‘Joint Annual Meeting: Ecology Across Borders’ is taking place at ICC Ghent, Belgium from 11-14 December 2017. The full programme is available here:

Follow the event on social media #EAB2017

About the Gesellschaft für Ökologie
The Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V. (GfÖ) represents ecologists working on basic research, applied aspects and education, mostly from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It was founded in 1970 to support exchange among ecologists working on a wide range of topics and positions. The diversity of the society’s over 1,150 members is reflected in the GfÖ’s specialist groups, publications and annual meetings. gfoe.org @GfOe_org

About the British Ecological Society
Founded in 1913, the British Ecological Society (BES) is the oldest ecological society in the world. The BES promotes the study of ecology through publishing a range of scientific literature, organising and sponsoring a wide variety of events, education initiatives and policy work. The society has over 6,000 members from nearly 130 different countries. britishecologicalsociety.org @BritishEcolSoc

About the Dutch-Flemish Ecological Society
The Dutch-Flemish Ecological Society (NecoV) was created by the merger of two ecological associations in the Dutch-Flemish language region, and aims to promote fundamental and applied ecology in the Netherlands and in Flanders, to promote national and international cooperation between ecologists, and to promote responsible management of the biosphere. NecoV organises meetings, symposia, seminars, courses, thematic working groups and other ecologically oriented activities. necov.org

About the European Ecological Federation
The European Ecological Federation (EEF) is the umbrella organisation representing the ecological societies within Europe and associated members. Instead of an individual membership, application process membership is granted automatically to members of a national society already represented in the EEF. The European Ecological Federation enables cooperation between ecological societies in order to promote the science of ecology in Europe. europeanecology.org @EuropeanEcology

https://www.openacousticdevices.info/
http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/events/annual-meeting-2017/
https://eventmobi.com/eab2017/

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