Sounding out ecoacoustic metrics: Avian species richness is predicted by acoustic indices in temperate but not tropical habitats

Alice Eldridge*, Patrice Guyot, Paola Moscoso, Alison Johnston, Ying Eyre-Walker, Mika Peck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Affordable, autonomous recording devices facilitate large scale acoustic monitoring and Rapid Acoustic Survey is emerging as a cost-effective approach to ecological monitoring; the success of the approach rests on the development of computational methods by which biodiversity metrics can be automatically derived from remotely collected audio data. Dozens of indices have been proposed to date, but systematic validation against classical, in situ diversity measures are lacking. This study conducted the most comprehensive comparative evaluation to date of the relationship between avian species diversity and a suite of acoustic indices. Acoustic surveys were carried out across habitat gradients in temperate and tropical biomes. Baseline avian species richness and subjective multi-taxa biophonic density estimates were established through aural counting by expert ornithologists. 26 acoustic indices were calculated and compared to observed variations in species diversity. Five acoustic diversity indices (Bioacoustic Index, Acoustic Diversity Index, Acoustic Evenness Index, Acoustic Entropy, and the Normalised Difference Sound Index) were assessed as well as three simple acoustic descriptors (Root-mean-square, Spectral centroid and Zero-crossing rate). Highly significant correlations, of up to 65%, between acoustic indices and avian species richness were observed across temperate habitats, supporting the use of automated acoustic indices in biodiversity monitoring where a single vocal taxon dominates. Significant, weaker correlations were observed in neotropical habitats which host multiple non-avian vocalizing species. Multivariate classification analyses demonstrated that each habitat has a very distinct soundscape and that AIs track observed differences in habitat-dependent community composition. Multivariate analyses of the relative predictive power of AIs show that compound indices are more powerful predictors of avian species richness than any single index and simple descriptors are significant contributors to avian diversity prediction in multi-taxa tropical environments. Our results support the use of community level acoustic indices as a proxy for species richness and point to the potential for tracking subtler habitat-dependent changes in community composition. Recommendations for the design of compound indices for multi-taxa community composition appraisal are put forward, with consideration for the requirements of next generation, low power remote monitoring networks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)939-952
Number of pages14
JournalEcological Indicators
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


  • Biodiversity monitoring
  • Remote sensing
  • Ecoacoustics
  • Acoustic indices
  • Species richness


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