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We have a handful of new students and summer interns starting in the lab who have never worked with acoustics before. Of course, it falls on their supervisor to introduce them to bioacoustics. However, there are currently no complementary “intro to bio/acoustics” classes at the University I currently work at. And in the interest of time (especially for summer interns who are only here for a short while), I’d love to provide them with some additional resources.

Because of its interdisciplinary nature, there are many aspects of bioacoustics from theory and general principles (e.g., digital signal processing, propagation modeling, wave tracing, localization), to data collection (e.g., types of passive acoustic monitoring, instrumentation), programming and software (e.g., Audacity, Triton, Raven, Ishmael, XBAT, etc.), and the biological aspects (e.g., sound production, sound reception, types and purposes of sounds).

Not that they can quickly learn everything, but I want to make sure that when they are handed data to analyze, they have a good idea of how it was collected, what they are doing, and why. For example, you can show someone how to open a wav file and draw boxes around a signal, but it doesn’t mean they understand the bigger picture.

In lieu of a class (which I may now need to create!), are there additional straightforward and practical resources that will lead students through the pipeline of biology, data collection, signal processing, and analysis, specifically for the field of bioacoustics? (Preferably ones that don’t assume you’re an engineer?)

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11 Answers 11

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There are a number of video tutorials at Discovery of Sound in the Sea (dosits.org) that may be helpful, including:

While these resources are focused on the marine environment, many of the fundamental ideas are the same for terrestrial/airborne acoustics (but not necessarily the equations, units of measurement or other details). Beginners might be best served to first learn about sound in their study environment and then learn about other environments (to minimize confusion in beginning).

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you please clarify whether or not these resources would be OK for someone getting started with terrestrial sound? I suggest editing the post to mention that. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Stowell
    Jul 4 at 6:19
  • $\begingroup$ Edited based on my perspective- let me know if you disagree? $\endgroup$
    – Shannon
    Jul 4 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ looks good, thanks $\endgroup$
    – Dan Stowell
    Jul 4 at 14:26
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There are some good introductory bioacoustics-focused videos on The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website: Virtual Lab: Sound Analysis Principles, although it looks like they haven't finished producing all the material.

Short courses, if you have funding for travel and registration, are extremely useful:

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For software, Tessa Rhinehart has compiled a wonderful spreadsheet of bioacoustic software (on Github here and downloadable spreadsheet here) that is a nice high-level overview of the different options and functionalities associated with each. It includes stand-alone software platforms as well as relevant R (e.g., monitoR, warbleR, etc.) & Python (Koogu, OpenSoundscape, etc.) packages.

For passive acoustic monitoring, I have some resources compiled here from a workshop I recently did on this. Including video of the workshop recording, PDFs of the PPT I used, a 'links to other resources' section, etc. Also have a (non-exhaustive, introductory) list of scientific papers on PAM; if you click the 'by-topic' link the first section is 'general info & reviews', if the students wanted a broad-level overview of the topic.

I second Cornell's Virtual Lab! During COVID, it replaced the Sound Analysis Workshops they used to do in-person.

WILDLABS has some nice videos from their Tech Tutors & Virtual Meetup series on bioacoustics, such as these:

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This may sound quite silly but the Raven Pro manual is actually really good.

https://ravensoundsoftware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Raven14UsersManual.pdf

Appendix B is a "Biologists Introduction to Spectral Analysis". It's well written and accessible to folks from a variety of backgrounds.

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If you are interested in Marine bioacoustics,

W.W.L. Au & M.C. Hastings, 2008, "Principles of Marine Bioacoustics", Springer (link)

covers the combined knowledge of Whitlow Au and Mardi Hastings and really replaces the classic reference "Sonar of Dolphins" by Au.

My own book

Zimmer, 2011, Passive acoustic monitoring of cetaceans, Cambridge University Press (doi)

tries to combine hands-on MATLAB code with bio-acoustical basics.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Zimmer 2011 was essential for me at the start of my grad school journey! May be more detailed than would be appropriate for a summer intern, but for a starting masters or PhD student, can't recommend enough. $\endgroup$
    – selene
    Jul 1 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ Advice on Au & Hastings: It is not a newbie book. If bioacoustics is what you are interested in, then skip the first 5 chapters (I think, don't have it at hand) and dive directly into the biology. The first chapters may later turn out to be useful references, but they are not needed for the rest of the book and are very likely to discourage someone new to the field. $\endgroup$
    – user18
    Jul 2 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ I agree to above comments, but both books can be used to generate material of interest. Also, never underestimate the intellectual capabilities of motivated next-generation bio-acousticians. $\endgroup$
    – WMXZ
    Jul 2 at 9:56
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A really great intro is the WWF guide that Ella Browning and others produced. Available as a free PDF here:

https://www.wwf.org.uk/project/conservationtechnology/acoustic-monitoring

Highly recommended for anyone getting into bioacoustics...!

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The Open Source Book "Exploring Animal Behavior through Sound" has chapters on:

  1. History of Sound Recording and Analysis Equipment
  2. Choosing Equipment for Animal Bioacoustics Research
  3. Collecting, Documenting, and Archiving Bioacoustical Data and Metadata
  4. Introduction to Acoustic Terminology and Signal Processing
  5. Source-Path-Receiver Model for Airborne Sounds
  6. Introduction to Sound Propagation Under Water
  7. Analysis of Soundscapes as an Ecological Tool
  8. Detection and Classification Methods for Animal Sounds
  9. Fundamental Data Analysis Tools & Concepts for Bioacoustical Research
  10. Behavioral and Physiological Audiometric Methods for Animals
  11. Vibrational and Acoustic Communication in Animals
  12. Echolocation in Bats, Odontocetes, Birds, and Insectivores
  13. The Effects of Noise on Animals
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    $\begingroup$ I saw that this book came out and assumed I'd have to pay for it - amazing that it is open access!! $\endgroup$
    – selene
    Oct 6 at 18:13
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This "pocket handbook" compiled by Christine Erbe for JASCO is full of useful information about underwater acoustics and marine mammals: http://oalib.hlsresearch.com/PocketBook%203rd%20ed.pdf

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I would also add:

  • SDU (University of Southern Denmark) hosts a 2 week course, every 2 years, on bioacoustics. Course is not cheap and you need to apply for a spot. I found it to be super useful and practical (for both in-air and underwater applications). It looks like applications have closed for the course running this August, but keep it in mind for the future.
  • PAMGuard (free opensource software for passive acoustic monitoring) has several freely available tutorials. This is not really for someone who is completely new to bioacoustics, but is helpful from a practical standpoint.
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Also Almo Farina and Stuart Gage's book, Ecoacoustics: The ecological role of sounds is a great start.

Many university libraries have it as a PDF.

Reference:

Farina, A., & Gage, S. H. (Eds.). (2017). Ecoacoustics: The ecological role of sounds. John Wiley & Sons.

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I think it is important to mention R Murray Shafer's Tuning of the World. This text coined "the soundscape".

Almo Farina's Soundscape Ecology is a more biological introduction to the field.

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