About Danielle

I'm the ORCAA Lab's resident "Frog Lady". As a graduate student in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society in the College of Forestry, I study the impacts of road noise on calling behavior in Pacific chorus frogs. Previously, I worked for Chris Clark on right whale communication at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, so I have some marine mammal cred. In my spare time I tend to do outside things, like mountain biking or climbing with my boyfriend. I also like to paint and draw, albeit not very well...

I didn’t post a Soundbites this week because I was very busy on Wednesday doing something very important, so I thought I’d talk about that instead.

I had the great pleasure this past Wednesday of attending a satellite symposium of the International Society of Behavioral Ecology entitled Contemporary Research on Anuran Communication. Translated, that means that I got to go to a day of honoring some of the great minds in the field of frog communication.

The symposium was in New York City, at Hunter College, so I flew in on Tuesday to stay with a medical student friend who lives in the area. You might say that it seems a little excessive to fly across the country for one day, but 1) it’s not often that everyone in such a small field gets together, and 2) I have enough friends on the East Coast that I can justify a trip to see both the conference and them.

It’s taken me until today to let my brain digest all of the information it received on Wednesday, but I’m now in a position to tell you all about the highlights of the day, and all the amazing stuff that’s being done in frog communication these days!

Highlight the first: ROBOTIC TUNGARA FROGS (go watch this video, it is the best, I promise). Ryan Taylor at Salisbury University has done an amazing project with tungara frogs to see what kind of impact the visual signal of the vocal sac inflating has on female choice. See, sometimes male tungara frogs will involuntarily add a “chuck” sound to the end of their “whine” call, and this “chuck” is irresistible to the ladies. But if that “chuck” sound comes too long after the whine, it’s not appealing anymore. Additionally, inflation of the vocal sac isn’t attractive to females without any sound associated with it. But when you link the distant “chuck” to the “whine” by the inflation of the vocal sac between the two sounds (with the help of the amazing ROBOFROG!), suddenly it’s appealing again! The inflation of the vocal sac is acting as a kind of link to keep the female’s interest! So acoustic communication can be augmented by visual communication.

They didn’t make the robofrogs attack anyone or anything, though, to my great disappointment.

Image courtesy of Lindsey Thurman.

Highlight the second: Susan Herrick‘s awesome talk on acoustic niche partitioning with green frogs and bullfrogs. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we hate bullfrogs for being ridiculously invasive, but where Susan does her research, they’re native. The two species call in the same frequency range, so there isn’t any partitioning there, and their breeding seasons fall during the same period of time. Bullfrogs are acoustically and physically dominant, so it falls to the green frogs to find ways to not overlap with bullfrog calls. It turns out that they’ll call in between bullfrog bouts and calls with surprising accuracy: they (statistically significantly) avoid overlapping with bullfrogs so they can be heard. It was a really awesome example of temporal acoustic niche partitioning.

Highlight the third: I MET MARK BEE. And shook his hand. And he said my study species (Pacific chorus frogs, Pseudacris regilla) are really interesting and he’s been meaning to do work on them!  His 2007 paper has been incredibly influential on my own research, and it was such a cool moment to actually say hello to him.

The honorees (5 of 6): Darcy Kelly, Kent Wells, Walter Hodl, Peter Narins, and Carl Gerhardt. Not pictured: Albert Feng.
The honorees (5 of 6): Darcy Kelly, Kent Wells, Walter Hodl, Peter Narins, and Carl Gerhardt. Not pictured: Albert Feng.

Highlight the fourth: all the little things. I got to learn a lot about frog perception and frog brains (did you know they don’t have cortices? I didn’t!), and how to test what frequency range frogs hear in. It was also amazing to be in the room with some of the greatest minds in frog communication, the researchers who started it all. The honorees were all very friendly (I got to chat with their wives a bunch) and it was both humbling and inspiring to be in the room with so many amazing people who love frog vocalizations just as much as I do.

All in all, it was a really valuable professional experience, and I made some good connections to move forward with. I look forward to presenting my own research to the people I’ve met someday!

Soundbites is a (hopefully) weekly feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound.

It was a slow news week, folks, so I went back in time a bit to get you some interesting tidbits.

Tree crickets not affected by anthropogenic noisein a field where we’re constantly searching for an effect, sometimes it’s nice to read a paper that says the opposite. The authors speculate that because tree crickets evolved to call in environments with lots of other calling insects, they might not have issues with high anthropogenic noise levels.

White-throated sparrows alter songs differentially depending on noise sourcedepending on what noise is going on in the background (cars, spring peepers, wind, or other birds), white-throated sparrows would change their songs to compensate in the way that would allow them to be best heard. Sometimes this was singing at higher frequencies, sometimes it was not singing at all. It just goes to show that you can’t look for a single, across-the-board response to noise.

Visitors will pay for quiet national parkshumans value soundscapes, too, and we’ll put our money where our mouths (or our ears?) are.

Fun link of the weekkind of a rough cut on this, but it’s from the source so I’ll stick with it. David Rothenberg is a musician and a philosopher who does live duets with animals. Here he’s playing with some humpback whales in Hawaii. I first heard about this guy on Radiolab and he’s super cool. So is Radiolab.


Here at the ORCAA blog we try to bring you a glimpse into the everyday lives of our graduate students. Sometimes it’s really exciting and dramatic and involves cool technology, or going to interesting places with beautiful landscapes, or recording something new and important.

This is not one of those times.

Summer for many ecologically-based graduate students is a time for doing fieldwork, because the weather is (generally) better and you don’t have those pesky classes to get in the way. This is certainly true for many of my labmates, both in ORCAA and in the Garcia Lab, my other home. My fieldwork, on the other hand, is done in late winter-early spring, from the end of January until May.

IMG_4208 (1)
That’s right, I changed Songmeter batteries in the snow.

The weather was not nice for the most part, and the water was still really cold, but that’s when my study species, the Pacific chorus frog, comes out of the trees and calls to find mates.

I love studying amphibians. I love how complex their life cycle is, and the way that they make excellent environmental indicators (unfortunately, this usually ends up badly for them), and the way that they constantly surprise me. I really enjoy going out into the field to work with these little guys, even if it’s cold and inconvenient sometimes.

What all this means is that I spend my summers thinking.

Don’t get me wrong, I do other things too. I help my labmates with their experiments. I write, and I take classes, and I analyze data. I even take vacations occasionally.

As a student in the College of Forestry, I had a slightly different experience from the rest of ORCAA’s students when I started. One thing that was talked about at our two-day, sleepover orientation at HJ Andrews Research Forest was the value of thinking. Not of writing down while you think, not of talking with others and thinking aloud; the value of simply sitting and turning things over in your brain.

Pacific chorus frog on a Songmeter

I’ve taken this to heart this summer. For all the time I spend deep in the nuts and bolts of analysis, I try to take an equal amount and spend it thinking about what this is telling me. I let my mind wander over the scope of my project and beyond, to what other people have done and what it means in the context of my own work, and even unrelated ideas for future projects. I can pass a lot of time like this, musing on this or that, but it always ends up being valuable in one way or another.

Sometimes I write things down. Usually I don’t.

In an age of deadlines, where everything is regimented and production is the way we measure success, sitting and thinking can be hard to justify. It’s hard to measure the tangible product of thinking, the new connections between ideas forged. But if we’re not encouraged to do this as graduate students, when we’re supposed to be finding new and exciting things, how are we ever going to do it as professionals? As professors? As researchers?

You’d be hard-pressed to find a field where a few moments of quiet thinking wouldn’t help you somewhere down the line.

So while I still have deadlines and analysis and things to produce this summer, I’ll take my time about it and do a lot of thinking as well—I figure, if not now, then when?

Soundbites is a (hopefully) weekly feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. Sorry I missed last week!

Pacific wrens change their songs when exposed to noisethis one is a cool one, folks. We’ve seen birds changing their songs in response to anthropogenic noise before, and here is no different: road noise impacted song duration. However, seaside birds exposed to surf noise changed more factors of their song than those singing next to roads. Interestingly, fundamental frequency was never one of the factors changed.

Prairie dogs impacted by road traffic noisein playback experiments, road noise caused prairie dogs to spend less time aboveground and foraging and more time vigilant. This is a big deal, because prairie dogs are a keystone species.

Acoustic monitoring WORKS!it’s always encouraging to see a study that shows the effectiveness of acoustic monitoring, and this one is no exception. Nighttime acoustic monitoring accurately assesses information about bird migrations in the Great Lakes!

Fun link of the weekapparently there is a whole website out there called strangesounds.org, but I found one of their lists of weird animal noises and it’s great. #5 is particularly awesome.

Soundbites is a (hopefully) weekly feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound.

Sexy voices–no choiceswith a title like that, there’s no way I’m changing it. Anthropogenic noise impacts female crickets’ ability to find potential mates.

Boat noise affects dugong vocal behavioradd another species to the list of marine mammals affected by boat noise. Here, it changes their harmonics.

Anthropogenic noise is affecting humpbacks in the southwestern Atlanticthis is one of the first documentations of anthropogenic noise levels in this area of humpback habitat, and the outlook isn’t good.

Fun link of the weekFriday is Independence Day for those of us in the US, and that means fireworks. Those really big, really bright booming fireworks (my least favorite) are called salutes. As this link demonstrates, it’s harder to get a nice, precise salute that goes off when you want it to than you might otherwise expect.

For those of you who are in the US, ORCAA wishes you a very happy and safe Independence Day!

Soundbites is a (hopefully) weekly feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound.

Baby sea turtles make noiseand I bet it’s adorable. This is the first recorded instance of vocalization in this species, and the calls take the form of complex contact calls.

Bat-eared foxes prefer mute preythey’re bat-eared for a reason (better hearing), but their most common prey is comparatively quiet, despite the presence of lots of noisy prey around. This could be because the quiet prey is preferred by the fox, or because the noisy prey has stronger anti-predator defenses, or, most likely, both.

Crabs don’t have ears, but they can hear predatorsdespite not actually having ears, crabs will still detect and react to sounds of preying fish by changing their feeding behavior. (This is a late addition to this week, which is solely Danielle’s fault for not realizing the amazing link Michelle had sent.)

Fun link of the weekhere’s a TEDtalk about a guy who was born colorblind, but has a device implanted that allows him to “hear” color. Tip of the inspiration hat to the great blog Soundscape Explorations.

All of my labmates are currently at SeaBASS having an awesome time, while I am in Corvallis beginning the analysis of my data. It’s required a lot of thinking outside the box. So rather than talk about research or even strict bioacoustics, I thought I’d talk about something I find really interesting: sound design in the movies, and the way animal calls can be turned into something completely otherworldly.

I touched on this idea a couple of weeks ago with my fun link of the week to the sound design for the newest Godzilla, but Hollywood is littered with monsters galore with interesting roars. One of the most near and dear uses of animal sound in movies is the prevalence of choruses of my own study subject, the Pacific chorus frog.

When they’re trying to create a sort of nature setting in movies, sound designers often use clips of the Pacific chorus frog. It has that characteristic “ribbit” you want from a stereotypical frog, and you can hear the sound clip of it in places where the species definitely doesn’t live (I think I picked it up once in a movie that was set in Thailand. Yeah, no Pacific chorus frogs there.).

But why this particular frog? I mean, I personally love the way it sounds, but did sound designers pick it because of that? Turns out that’s not the case. Pacific chorus frog choruses are regularly featured in movies because early sound designers could go out to the ponds in California, even in the Hollywood area, and easily record the sound of the chorus. It was more a factor of convenience than desire.

There are some other stereotypical animal sounds that are often heard in movies. Every owl that you see (unless it’s a nature documentary) is probably going to have the call of the great horned owl, even if it’s not in fact a great horned owl. Now think about that sound that you hear whenever a bald eagle is shown onscreen, that piercing call—that’s actually a red-tailed hawk. Bald eagles sound more like this (follow the link).

What I find more fun is trying to pick out what vocalizations go into monsters. I’m kind of a big Lord of the Rings nerd, so naturally first we have to talk about Peter Jackson’s interpretations of the monsters there.

20130218015123!Orc_moriaThe Moria orcs (scrabbly little guys) have a really distinct high-pitched noise they make. Part of this sound is made up of the calls of some very vocal baby elephant seals, which sound designer David Farmer thought would be perfect after hearing them at the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin headlands. Do these guys sound like orcs to you?

The cave troll, too, had some animal vocalizations included, notably walrus and tiger. That sad moan when it dies comes from the walrus. Poor cave troll. I always felt bad for him.Cave_troll

To my everlasting dismay, we don’t know what dinosaurs sounded like: that kind of vibratory tissue just doesn’t fossilize well (with one notable exception: the duckbill dinosaur‘s oddly shaped crest may have been used to make sound). That doesn’t stop Hollywood from trying to recreate the calls of dinosaurs, however. Jurassic Park sound designer Gary Rydstrom used sounds from whales, lions, alligators, tigers, elephants, and even a koala to create the soundscape of the ill-fated imaginary park (this video of an elephant will convince you).

There are so many more monsters in Hollywood with their own signature noises. However, for the most part sound designers are pretty close-lipped about how they create their characters. And that’s really understandable. After all, if they didn’t keep some secrets, how could the new Godzilla sound so much more dramatic and scary than everyone else?

This post was brought to you with very little science and a lot of Googling. Some helpful sources are included below. Sound design isn’t a peer-reviewed field, remember. 

Main/Stock Sound Effects

Soundscape Explorations blog

Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition

Movie sound effect origins

Soundbites is a (hopefully) weekly feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. We’re back after a two-week hiatus that allowed our students to finish the term successfully!

Robins sing from higher perches when near roadsroad noise impacts many species (see Danielle’s masters project), and there has been a lot of work done on birds. However, it’s rarely done to this fine of a spatial scale. The authors speculate that sitting at higher perches allows male robins to hear their rivals better.

“I ain’t been dropping no eaves, sir, honest!”if you’ll forgive the blatant Lord of the Rings reference, what I’m really trying to say is that eavesdropping is important. These researchers agree. Across the board, eavesdropping on other species’ alarm calls has fitness consequences.

Harbor porpoises change behavior in response to seismic survey noisewhile previous studies showed no difference in behavior, this study finds that certain vocalizations are less likely to occur when seismic survey noise is present.

Fun link of the week:  not animal-related, but soundscape-related. What does Brazil sound like when they score in the World Cup? Listen to this recording of a neighborhood in last week’s match against Croatia.

A few members of ORCAA are down at SeaBASS this week and have been tweeting as they go, so be sure to follow us on twitter to keep up with the action! 

Soundbites is a (hopefully) weekly feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound.

Anthropogenic noise has an impact on spider behaviorinvertebrates are often overlooked in the anthropogenic noise discussion, but it turns out that intermediate levels of noise can impact prey-detection behavior detrimentally in the garden spider.

Cardinals detect differences in vocalizations adjusted for noisewe do a lot of work on how animals adjust their calls based on anthropogenic noise, but not always on the response of conspecifics to those adjusted calls. Here, cardinals give stronger territorial responses to non-adjusted calls, but lose the ability to distinguish as the environment gets noisier.

A couple of weeks ago, the 2nd International Conference on Environmental Interactions of Marine Renewable Energy Technologies happened in Scotland, and it turns out a few of their talks had to do with marine mammals and noise. Here’s one of them.

Tracking porpoises with underwater arrays is possible: researchers set out see if they can track porpoises by listening to their clicks with an array of hydrophones, and it turns out it worked really well! This has great management implications for figuring out behavior in certain settings.

Fun link of the week: what does the fox actually  say? Hank Green and SciShow give us the scoop.



Soundbites is a (hopefully) weekly feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound.

Frogs change calling time in response to traffic noise: species with high peak frequency didn’t care about traffic noise, but species with low peak frequency optimized their calling to fall in lulls of traffic noise to avoid masking.

Researchers need to consider the costs of response to anthropogenic noise as well as benefits: we tend to focus only on the benefits of changing vocalizations in response to noise, but costs like increased predation risk, reduced transmission distance, and information loss need to be considered to get a balanced picture of trade-offs.

Fun link of the weekNPR looks at the technology and design behind the latest Godzilla’s roar (which in the past was done with a resin-coated leather glove against a double bass). With the emphasis on sounds recorded at higher frequencies, my guess is they got some high-pitched animal sound in there and slowed it down… thoughts?