How is Climate Change Jeopardizing the Sounds of Nature?

By Kristen Rodman, Staff Writer
October 19, 2013; 7:13 AM ET
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Climate change has brought once lively and loud habitats to utter silence as their inhabitants of birds, frogs and insects have either vanished or drastically changed their migration patterns, according to researchers.

A relatively new study known as biophony, or the signature of collective sounds that occur in any given habitat at any given time, has provided scientific evidence to show that the sounds of nature have been altered by both global warming and human endeavors.

"Biophony is changing," bioacoustician and founding father of the research, Bernie Krause, said. "What was present 20 years ago or so has changed so radically that you wouldn't recognize the habitat from its voice of 20 years ago."

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Krause has recorded soundscapes for 45 years in a variety of locations both in the U.S. and internationally. During a TED talk in Edinburg, Scotland, Krause stated that of these soundscapes, "50 percent of his archive comes from habitats so radically altered that they are altogether silent or can no longer be heard in their original form."

While soundscape research has not been fully developed, hypotheses for the causes of these changes have been formed.

"My hunch from my work is that it has a lot to do with global warming," Krause said. "Springtime is occurring almost two weeks earlier than it was even 20 years ago."

The early onset of spring has brought migratory species to their migration and breeding grounds much earlier than years before, according to research by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

"The breeding and migration cycles are out of sync with what's occurring in the natural habitats," Krause said.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar speaks during a news conference in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, March 11, 2010. The Interior Department report says global climate change poses a significant threat to migratory bird populations already stressed by the loss of habitat and environmental pollution. (AP Photo/Thao Nguyen)

Due to these changes, typical food sources are not yet available or are limited in these locations.

In regards to songbirds, when food availability is impacted they will move immediately, according to Vice President for Program Development of the American Bird Conservancy Michael Parr.

This lack of food has caused a change in the patterns and diversity of the birds in these areas and as a result has diminished the original forms of the areas' soundscapes.

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Aside from climate change, human endeavors also contribute to the imminent changes in nature's biophony.

"A large part of the reasons, aside from climate change, is human endeavor; mining and logging," Krause said. "The pressure is so intense on these habitats that a lot of change is occurring as a result of habitat destruction."

As these excavations continue, studying the soundscapes and biophony of the environment can show the changes that occur throughout a multitude of habitats.

"The eye doesn't always tell us the truth; it is easy to deceive," Krause said. "But the ear, in 15 seconds, can tell whether or not a habitat is healthy or whether it is under stress. We don't have to count trees, grasses, shrubs, mammals and birds."

Krause's models, strategies and research methods are now taught at universities around the country, including Purdue University and Michigan State University.

Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Kristen Rodman at, follow her on Twitter @Accu_Kristen or Google+. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.


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