Soundscape Ecology: its a brand new field of study that focuses on the biological and geo-physical sounds given off by ecosystems. Sounds that include the pristine forests of Alaska as well as the airplane flying overhead. As it turns out, because of human activity and its side effects, the chance of hearing a natural ecosystem that is not affected by motorized vehicles or an invasive species, is quite low. This new area of study and the problems associated with it- was the focus of an article in this past weekend’s New York Times Magazine, entitled: ‘Is Silence Going Extinct’.
One of the major ideas that soundscape ecologists are working on, is looking into what can be done to preserve or restore natural soundscapes. The example of the red-billed leiothrix, a type of bird (invasive species) from East Asia that with its loud calls drowns out the mating calls of native birds (like the blackbird) in Northern Italy. Can the blackbirds be saved through some form of intervention to restore the original sounds or that ecosystem? New and disruptive sounds can have a damaging effect on both animal communication and behavior, which can put at risk the future of a species.
Despite their hope to be able to stop some natural sounds and systems from being lost, specialists in this new field also acknowledge they may also be the witnesses to many ends. Some conditions are beyond the point of no return, and of course we humans do not seem to be ceasing our numerous activities on this planet. The only real development might be the rise of a focus on sustainability, that would go hand-in-hand with the goals of soundscape ecologists who seek to understand and do something about our impact in this world.
Source: NYT Magazine
Photo: by me.