How Digital Technology is Bringing Us Closer to the World of Animals and Plants

Karen Bakker is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the secret sounds of nature. This book is perfect for young readers who are fascinated by the natural world and want to learn more about the creatures that inhabit it.

Karen Bakker is a Professor at the University of British Columbia, and a Fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She is a Rhodes Scholar with a PhD from Oxford. Her research focuses on the intersection of digital technologies and environmental governance, digital environmental humanities, digital geographies, political ecology, and political economy. Her book is a great way to understand how digital technologies are changing the way we study and understand the natural world.

Karen Bakker – The Sounds of Life

The book is divided into five chapters, each one highlighting a key insight into how digital technology is bringing us closer to the world of animals and plants. The first chapter explains how human ears cannot hear all of nature’s symphony. When we step into a forest or walk along a beach, there’s a lot to take in: the sound of waves crashing against the sand, birds chirping to each other in the trees, but there is also a lot we don’t hear. A large degree of the communication that happens in nature is inaudible to us. This communication happens either above the top end of our hearing range in what’s called the ultrasonic or below the lower end of our hearing range in what’s called the infrasonic.

Bats and dolphins, for example, communicate and echolocate in a high frequency range, the ultrasonic. Whales, elephants, and tigers can both hear and make sound in the infrasonic, below our hearing range. Recently, scientists have begun recording a large number of other species and we are realizing that a huge range of species makes sounds. Nearly every living organism we have studied is sensitive to sound.

The second chapter explores how digital listening brings us closer to nature. Digital technology is often thought to distance us from nature, but digital listening actually brings us closer. Imagine taking your smartphone and opening an app that records sound—including sound above and below your hearing range. It would be like having an enormously powerful hearing aid. Now imagine linking up a network of these phones, across a forest, or even an entire ocean.

“Many more creatures make sound—lots more sound, and very intricate sound—than we previously knew.” This is exactly what scientists are doing. They are using digital bioacoustics—portable, automated recording devices—to record the sounds of other species, from the Arctic to the Amazon, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, with far less disruption than human observers usually cause.

The third chapter focuses on how digital listening is enabling scientists to discover astounding things about nature. Many more creatures make sound—lots more sound, and very intricate sound—than we previously knew. One example is the famous dance of the peacock, with the beautiful tail that fans out. It is one of the most famous, beautiful mating displays in nature. Humans assume this is a visual display. But it turns out that it’s a sonic display. The male peacocks are making very loud sounds with their tails in the infrasonic, sounds that we can’t hear. If you could hear them, it would sound like a loud car revving rightRegenerate response next to your ear. The Female peahens can hear these sounds, and in experiments scientists have confirmed that those peahens pay attention to the peacocks that can make the best noises and the biggest noises, which influences their mating choices. It’s quite astounding that we only just learned this fact about peacocks. They’re not the only species for which sound is important. Nearly every species that scientists have observed with digital bioacoustics—even those without apparent hearing organs—is sensitive to sound; and many more make sound than we previously understood.

The fourth chapter explains how digital listening is advancing ecological research and conservation efforts. By listening to ecosystems and decoding animal communication, ecologists can gauge the health of the natural environment and understand how human activities like noise pollution or logging affect animal populations. For instance, in Costa Rica, audio recordings were used recently to evaluate the development and health of reforested areas of the rainforest.

The fifth and final chapter of the book talks about the future of digital listening and the potential for AI analysis of animal communication to help establish marine animal protection zones and give other species “a voice” in conversations about our environment.

Overall, “The Sounds of Life” is a fascinating and informative book that will open your eyes to the secret sounds of nature and how technology is helping us understand them. The author’s writing style is engaging and easy to follow, making it perfect for young readers. It’s filled with examples and real-world applications that will make you appreciate the natural world in a whole new way.

Link to Amazon for “The Sounds of Life”

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