I know I promised I’d be better about Soundbites. I even promised my labmates I’d be better about blogging. In my defense, I present this graph that I hastily drew today on my iPad:


It’s a graph of how in control of my life I feel versus time in grad school. Now I’ve got two and a half years of data to back this up, so even though my sample size is n = 1, I feel pretty confident in the conclusions I’m drawing from it.

The beginning of grad school, when I first arrived but hadn’t started working yet, I felt pretty awesome. But then I started to realize how much work I had to do and how in over my head I felt, so there’s that first drop. Fieldwork was pretty up and down, followed by an alright summer and fall with more up and down fieldwork.

But with writing, it’s like I can’t get the rest of my life together to save, well, my life. Running? Out the window. Yoga? Nope. Climbing? Not on your life. Even simple walks to get outside are only done when I’m running between buildings. It’s like the only things I’m capable of are writing, sleeping, and eating, and anything else requires too much brain power to even attempt.

My advisor Tiffany mentioned that this is a common occurrence when students get to the writing phase. Usually I’m really disciplined about taking care of myself while working, but writing has just sucked that ability out of me.

So maybe the best approach is to just embrace it. Okay, the next month and a half is going to be spent existing mostly as a blob of words who occasionally eats food. Seems kind of fitting for a pre-Halloween post:


Is this my fate? Will I be defending as a blob rather than a human?

Stay tuned…

Also, because I forgot Soundbites this week, here’s a fun link. Because I haven’t become a word blob yet.

13 of the most terrifying sounds ever recorded

Happy Halloween, all!

Soundbites is your weekly dose of the newest, coolest bioacoustics news, plus other fun stuff, all in bite-size form. A day late and a dollar short this week, folks. Blame my thesis…

Guys, I haven’t got a lot of new bioacoustics news for you this week. I got a great Google alert about a paper called “Not so sexy sounds”, but then my computer thought the link was corrupted and I couldn’t get it for you.

Noise impacts nestling begging in tree swallowsanthropogenic noise has different impacts depending on the species, which is why it’s important to keep studying its effects. Here, tree swallow nestlings increased amplitude and frequency in their begging calls when exposed to white noise; also, when exposed to feeding calls at noisy nests, parents responded with less feeding than at control nests. So noise changed the behavior of both parents and nestlings, and while they were able to compensate and no one was left hungry, it’s not clear if there’s a threshold above which this wouldn’t work anymore.

Fun link of the week: here’s a weird one for you. I was thinking about the acoustics and soundscapes of fall and somehow I ended up googling “pumpkin instrument”. There is an entire musical group devoted to making instruments out of vegetables. They are called, appropriately, the Vegetable Orchestra. Here is a video of them recording one of their albums:

What’s that, you say? Has Soundbites returned? Indeed it has! After a long hiatus for the summer, Soundbites is returning this term to provide you with all the latest and greatest bioacoustics news, bite-sized! 

Phantom road experiment reveals noise degrades habitatman do I like this experiment. As all of the ORCAA students could tell you, sometimes it’s hard to differentiate the effects of noise from general habitat degradation. These researchers set up a “phantom road” made of speakers and found evidence of avoidance and decreased body condition in birds.

Gorillas change vocalizations based on audience effects, not environmental factorsI don’t get to write about gorilla vocalizations very often! These researchers wanted to test the acoustic adaptation hypothesis to see if both mountain and lowland gorillas changed their vocalizations to maximize transmission in their cluttered (physically and acoustically) environment. Instead, the gorillas changed their vocalization based on social cues, like nearest neighbors and visual separation.

Traffic noise impacts zebra finch embryos and nestlingsthe authors set out to distinguish the impacts of noise from other habitat variables by using captive zebra finches. High-noise groups had higher embryo mortality and slower nestling growth, and noise also was found to possibly exacerbate stressed animals further and contribute to reduced parental care.

Fun link of the weekacoustic scientists recently shattered the world record for longest echo. In Scotland, there are long tunnels that used to be used for oil storage. A gun shot echoed for a ridiculous 112 seconds!

Hello, blog friends! I know I have been absent lately (and I know how much you miss Soundbites, I promise I’ll be bringing them back come fall term…). But I thought I’d check in quickly and report the successful submission of my first-ever academic paper!

This is a big deal for me. As someone who came from a non-science background, I didn’t really understand how important it is to get your name on something in a journal. And when I started in grad school, I figured I wouldn’t be publishing until I had finished my masters research, since the project was big.

Thankfully, Holger and Tiffany included me on a side project involving red-legged frogs, and I got to take point on it. So after several weeks and months of this:


(image copyright Jorge Cham, PhD Comics)

we finally ended up with a manuscript and some figures worthy of submission. And after a last crunchtime effort by Holger and I this afternoon, we got it out the door just in time for me to go on vacation to Europe for two weeks!

The relief is palpable.

I have really enjoyed having this project be my first manuscript submission, as I have a lot of intellectual investment in it but pretty much no emotional investment (unlike my thesis, which is my baby). Failures during the writing process were easier to learn from, and successes were great.

So keep your eyes peeled…we just have to go through review…and then, fingers crossed, PUBLICATION!

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

Multimodal signalling in redwing blackbirds in noisy situationsmore bird stuff this week to start off. Redwing blackbirds attract mates both acoustically (with songs) and visually (by showing off their fancy red shoulders). The visual signal was thought to be a sort of backup for the acoustic signal. In noisy conditions, these authors found that birds will change their calls but not their visual signaling, implying that the two signals are separate.

To be loud or not to be loud, that is the questionFemales of many acoustic species tend to prefer their males loud because being loud requires energy. Or so we thought! Here the authors found that singing loudly in zebra finches is constrained more by social context than it is by energy expenditure. You should click on this link if only for the diagram of the zebra finch inside a respirometry mask. It’s adorable.

Fun link of the week: you guys know I love the science side of YouTube, right? I’ve made no secret of that. So for this week’s fun link, I give you a video from Joe Hanson of It’s Okay To Be Smart about the loudest sound:

(also, look! I finally figured out how to embed videos!)

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

Acoustic “sonic net” may deter invasive European starling communicationnoise isn’t all bad. Sometimes it allows us to get rid of things we don’t want, like invasive species. Here researchers used a “sonic net” comprising of frequencies overlapping with starling communication frequencies over a feeding patch. Birds under the net didn’t respond to alarm calls, which is promising in using acoustics as a deterrent for this species.

Singing higher doesn’t guarantee success for urban birdsblame the surplus of bird literature on springtime, I guess. In the bioacoustics world we often talk about the seminal “Birds sing at a higher pitch in traffic noise” paper; here, the author of that paper addresses how that affects survivorship. Turns out there’s no correlation between success in an urban environment and singing at a higher pitch.

Traffic noise masks communication in freshwater stream fishI’m just going to leave this one here. Traffic noise can impact entire watersheds. Anyone interested in making quieter cars yet???

Fun link of the week: in the grand tradition of fun links of the week having nothing to do with sound, this one goes out to Selene, who defends on Friday. Good luck, Selene! You’re going to do awesome! (and clearly, bring a sword.)

(image courtesy of xkcd)

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

Bioacoustics helps find what may be a new beaked whale speciesthis one was hard to miss this week, as it was all over the pop press news as well. Here’s the original article. Passive acoustic monitoring in the Antarctic found echolocation and communication signals that were beaked-whale-esque, but unlike species seen before this. It might be a new species!

Cicadas and birds partition acoustic space in the tropicsI think the acoustic niche hypothesis is really neat, and it’s cool to see it in practice. Bird species and cicadas in the tropics vocalize at similar frequencies, so birds avoided calling when cicadas were calling. If they did call during cicada song, birds changed their frequency to avoid overlap.

Fun link of the weekMichelle had an awesome post last week about paleo-bioacoustics (what a field name!), so continuing in that theme, let’s talk about terror birds. Have you guys seen a terror bird skull before? Terrifying. This new research suggests that they had low voices and were better at perceiving low-frequency sounds. This means we’re one step closer to my dream, knowing what dinosaurs actually sounded like…

Soundbites is a weekly (less often when Danielle is doing fieldwork) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. No April Foolin’ here, just cool research (because Danielle hates April Fools. Seriously.).

Grasshoppers have trouble localizing mates in noisy conditionsanother tale in the continuing story of how noise screws up mating for lots of different taxa. Grasshoppers can locate mates by sound very well in quiet conditions, but it takes more time and energy to do it in noisy conditions.

Using passive acoustic monitoring to document sperm whale predation on fishing grounds worksI saw this as a talk at last year’s Acoustical Society of America meeting, and it was just as cool then. Collaboration with fishermen is allowing researchers to document sperm whale depredation, all using passive acoustic monitoring. This also allows them to easily test new deterrent methods.

Fun link of the week: you guys. Look at this weird-sounding bird I found for you. This bird is so weird. I heard it described as the red-alert sound from Star Trek and I agree. (also, look, I finally figured out how to embed YouTube videos!)

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

Primate vocal divergence and speciation: a cool study on tamarins in South America documenting how vocal divergence might lead to reproductive isolation in two subspecies, meaning that they might actually end up being different species altogether.

Atlantic spotted dolphins can change the depth of field of their echolocation: these researchers found dynamic changes in the way this species focuses its echolocation, especially as prey gets closer. Neat example of convergent evolution with bats!

Hong Kong’s pink dolphin population shifting to avoid vessel traffic: an already threatened population is getting even more stressed by vessel traffic, and is moving to be less disturbed.

Fun link of the weekthis has basically nothing to do with acoustics, except it’s a song on an acoustic guitar. But yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, so I thought I’d give you a biologist’s take on the holiday.

Soundbites is a weekly (less often when Danielle is doing fieldwork) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. Yes, I know it’s been awhile. I’ll try to make this one extra awesome to make up for it.

Dolphins have social food calls: it turns out that humans aren’t the only ones to gossip about our food (see anyone’s Instagram feed ever). These researchers found that wild bottlenose dolphins had particular social calls that were highly correlated with food calls, and didn’t occur otherwise. Dolphins might therefore be sharing information about the food patch itself.

Invasive cane toad calls change the calling patterns of native Australian frogs: as I’m deep in frog fieldwork, you just knew I’d have some frog news for you. Invasive species are bad as it is (and cane toads are particularly bad), but they might also be changing the way native species communicate. Here, one native species decreased their call rate with playback of cane toad calls. I hope these authors extend this work with observational studies, there’s a lot of potential here.

Birds shift the frequency of non-breeding calls above noise: we’ve heard about birds shifting their frequency before, but only with breeding calls. Here, black-capped chickadees (a local species) and American goldfinches both shifted their non-breeding calls (described as “chickadeedeedee” and “po-tay-to-chip”, which I love) above the frequency of urban noise.

Fun link of the week: apropos of absolutely nothing at all, did you guys know that sand dunes sing!??!?! Not only do they sing, they sound creepy! Someone needs to work on some weird ambient music with the stuff, stat!