The sound level meter, a tool used to measure intensity of sound, shows two different curves that address the two sources of sounds in the environment. The black curve is a territory with high background noise level that typically consisted of traffic sounds by nearby cars, trucks, and trains (Brumm, 2004). The grey curve represents a territory with low levels of background noise and the main source there was songs and calls of a multitude of distant birds (Brumm, 2004). This graph shows how closely man made noises are in frequency to the sounds of nature’s creatures.
The fact that they are so close in sound level can be dangerous because the sound from mechanical noise can overpower the sounds of animals like what is shown between 0 to 2 Hz in figure 2. In turn this could make it difficult for animal species to make their natural calls in their environment. As ecology researcher Pijanowski once said, “the unintended silencing of organisms by human activities is an indication of our continued effect on the planet’s ecosystem” (Dumyahn et al.
, 2011). This balance between man made noises and animal calls needs to be addressed in order to make the life for animals much easier.
A chaotic noise in the city is not uncommon; however, this effect has spread to rural areas with the expansion of transportation (Dumyahn et al., 2011). After studying these sounds, policies to control noise are in place such as the National Parks Overflight Act of 1987. The National Park Service (NPS) appreciates soundscapes as a park resource and that “those park soundscapes that have become degraded by unnatural sounds, and will protect natural soundscapes from unacceptable impacts” (Dumyahn et al., 2011). Many other policies like this one can be made if researchers take use of the soundscapes available to them.
In sync with other fields: soundscape ecology is a broad field of study that assesses the relationship between a landscape and the makeup of its sound. It incorporates sounds such as biophony, geophony, and anthrophony from a given landscape to create unique acoustical patterns across a variety of spatial and temporal scales. This makes it very similar to landscape ecology which focuses on the interaction of pattern and ecological processes across large spatial regions (Dumyahn et al., 2011). Many of the basic principles of soundscape ecology are common to those of landscape ecology.
Landscape structure influences the distribution and abundance of species and their interactions through climate change and other natural processes and also provides for types of geophysical motion patterns (Dumyahn et al., 2011) which goes hand in hand with geophony sounds. If these two fields were to be analyzed together then it would provide more emphasis on interactions between biological and anthropogenic forces as well as creating advanced tools that could operate in both fields to deduce the funding of both.
Bioacoustic ecology which is the study of animal communication has also become a popular field of study over the years. Bioacoustic ecology provides new tools which to study natural and anthropogenic sounds and the introduction of spectrograms, representation of sounds and metrics, was actually one of their first (Dumyahn et al., 2011). Spectrograms actually reveal “the acoustic structure of a sound so that a great deal of information on tone quality, pitch, and timbre can be extracted” (Almo & Pieretti, 2012). This field is also coming out with new digital technology to enable better quality of the recordings as well as extending behavioral studies from single species to entire communities (Almo & Pieretti, 2012).
These new technologival advances could avoid involuntary disturbance caused to the environment by the field operator making it a efficient approach to studying acoustical dynamics. If these tools were created earlier it could have aided in the soundscape study in Berlin, Germany by eliminating excess noise in order to get a effective recording of the nightingales. If soundscape ecology were to expand its area of study to incorporate other fields such as landscape or bioacoustic ecology it could overcome half its hurdles through different perspectives and advanced technology.
The field of soundscape ecology is in need of improvement in many different aspects. The first and foremost being technology such as more acoustic sensors that can automate the recording of sound and can be placed in hostile environments (Dumyahn et al., 2011). Research is also needed to differentiate the varying sounds (biophony, geophony, anthrophony) to be able to understand their different compositions such as time interval and acoustic frequency (Dumyahn et al., 2011). Research in this area can advance the ability to use soundscape measures for natural resource management and biological conservation. This is also where perspectives from the bioacoustic field and environmental field could come into play in helping to provide the extra insight and technology needed.
There is more information needed to assess the impacts of soundscapes on wildlife. Current researchers have minimal evidence of how sounds like anthrophony affects breeding, predator-prey relationships, and physiology (Almo & Pieretti, 2012). Having biologists on board who study various animals and their livelihood would be an ideal solution to this growing concern.
Similar to how we have answers to the human impacts on soundscapes through studying anthrophony sounds, there is still a need to find the impacts of soundscapes on humans. Just like how human made noise can affect the livelihood of many animal species, could the sounds of animals also affect humans in the same way? Humans are constantly immersed in the sounds that emanate from the environment and considering their mental state is equally as important as animals (Dybas, 2012). Being able to analyze an individual’s sense of place and sensory connection to nature could be a good first step in assessing their mental health. There could be demographic variables that are in play such as culture and age that affect the values that individuals hold towards soundscapes (Dybas, 2012). Certain researcher have suggested that surveys may be a good indicator of assessing the public’s attitudes towards this new scientific movement.
There are still many more questions to be answered in the field of soundscape ecology in making it effective for research applications. There can be no perfect solution to any of these problems but even little steps of progress such as incorporation of better techniques and experienced researchers can lead soundscape ecology in a positive direction.