One of the crucial factors in Bernie Krause’s formulation of the Niche Hypothesis and in his sometimes dire predictions about the decline of natural soundscapes is the benefit afforded by many years of close listening to soundscapes. Long-term listening, just like long-term observation, can reveal things that a cursory examination can not.
This is exactly the idea that drives the Muskegon River Watershed project, a joint initiative aimed at measuring the biodiversity of the Muskegon River over a long period of time. The project was set up by Stuart Gage of Michigan State University, along with Bryan Pijanowski of Purdue. Together, they deployed solar powered microphones at specific points throughout the region. Recordings are relayed to the scientists via satellite and are logged and entered into the database. At the end of the project, the recordings will be compared and conclusions will be drawn regarding the long-term health of the region.
Another ecologist with similar ideas about the usefulness the aural examination of natural processes over the long-term is Almo Farina of Italy’s Urbino University. He studies the relationship between bird activities and the surrounding landscape by examining recordings made from a selection of microphones strewn across a valley floor by a cable car. His findings are in accord with the Niche Hypothesis. He states that “some birds sing only after another species becomes silent, and vice versa”. This indicates a natural give and take, exactly as Krause describes. He explains further, that “when you find acoustic overlap, this means that the community could be affected by some habitat disturbance”.
Both of these projects allow a completely fresh perspective on the health of natural environments and allow scientists to asses long-term affects of human activities on these environments. They also reinforce the importance and effectiveness of holistic approaches to studying natural soundscapes. They indicate a need for us avoid the tendency to focus in on particular sounds, a habit which only contributes to a warped impression of the soundscapes we find ourselves amidst. The sound of Tui or a Bellbird may be lovely, but if we ignore their increasing irregularity, we may stand to lose them in future.