Above: The sounds of whales are studied, along with many other topics, within bioacoustics.

Why is sound important to fishes? What are the latest insights into bird hearing and perception, and is there any meaning to a baby’s cries?

These are only three of the interesting topics to be discussed at the second African Bioacoustics Conference (ABC) to take place online from 2 to 5 November this year.

Hosted by Sea Search and Stellenbosch University’s Department of Botany and Zoology, the programme is packed with more than 80 presentations, many of them leading scientists from Africa and the rest of the world. Other topics include understanding why animals sing, eaves dropping in on communication in primates, and a special session on the basics of bioacoustics, including research methods and data collection, aimed at non-specialists and students.

Dr Tess Gridley, founder of the African Bioacoustics Community and co-director of Sea Search, says the initiative is a proactive step to grow this field of science in Africa: “Researchers in Africa have access to a wide range of behaviourally interesting and vocal species and unique environments which require better protection. Increasing industrialisation is resulting in noise pollution which can change behaviour and cause stress – so there are many reasons for scientists to explore the possibilities offered by bioacoustics.”

She says one of the primary reasons for developing the African Bioacoustics Community, established in March 2018, is to provide training opportunities for students within the continent. The online event and student support on offer provides valuable training to those who cannot afford to attend international conferences: “With limited access to funding, African scientists are constrained in attending international conferences and consequently we miss opportunities to learn from and network with experts in the field.”

The aim is to grow the field in Africa by providing a platform for people working on all aspects of bioacoustics research to interact and network, including scientists from diverse fields, students, environmental practitioners, policymakers and the general public.

As bioacoustics is becoming more important in conservation science, this year’s conference will also feature a cross-over day with the Conservation Symposium on Wednesday 4 November. One of the highlights of the cross-over day is a session on how acoustic monitoring is being used to monitor illegal activities including deforestation, poaching and blast fishing.

Other activities include a Movie Event showcasing professional and amateur footage including behind the scenes insight into the bioacoustics research field as well as an in-person, Covid-19 compliant, networking event in Stellenbosch.

 – Stellenbosch University