The incidence of bird sounds, and other categories of non-focal sounds, confound the relationships between acoustic indices and bird species richness in southern China

Supun Galappaththi, Eben Goodale*, Jiajie Sun, Aiwu Jiang*, Christos Mammides

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The analysis of audio recordings through acoustic indices has been proposed as an efficient way to measure and monitor biodiversity, given the assumption that higher levels of biodiversity produce more rapidly-changing and complex sound. However, in previous work in south China, we have found only moderate correlations between the acoustic indices and bird species richness, when analyzing recordings that were made at the same time as conducting point counts of birds. Here, we extended that work in three study regions in Guangxi Province, making observations both inside relatively undisturbed forest reserves and in the surrounding agricultural lands. We found that of 42 correlations between bird species richness and the acoustic indices (seven commonly used acoustic indices [ACI, ADI, AEI, AR, BIO, H, NDSI] each calculated in six habitat/region combinations) only seven had even a moderate relationship (i.e., |r| ≥ 0.20). To understand this paucity of relationships, we listened to a subsample of the recordings, scoring them for various kinds of biophony (incidence of bird and insect sounds), anthropophony (incidence of observer-produced sounds, sounds made by other humans, and sounds made by machines) and geophony (primarily wind, occasionally water). These analyses found that insects were positively related to the acoustic indices, especially in forests. Moreover, anthropophony and geophony, were, in general, negatively correlated to the indices. The incidence of bird vocalizations also had consistent and strong correlations to the residuals of the models relating the acoustic indices to bird species richness, demonstrating that the indices are clearly sensitive to the amount of bird sounds, but that is not necessarily strongly correlated to bird diversity. Multivariate models confirmed that the amounts of different sound categories were more influential on the acoustic indices than bird species richness. Our results demonstrate how competing noises, in both relatively undisturbed environments and heavily modified ones, can confound relationships between the acoustic indices and biodiversity. We discuss possible remedial steps for using acoustic indices in noisy soundscapes, including tailoring the selection of indices and frequency bands for the objectives of the project, or, alternatively, using a big-data approach that combines multiple indices.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02922
JournalGlobal Ecology and Conservation
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Acoustic indices
  • Biodiversity monitoring
  • Bird diversity
  • Ecoacoustics
  • Soundscape analysis


Dive into the research topics of 'The incidence of bird sounds, and other categories of non-focal sounds, confound the relationships between acoustic indices and bird species richness in southern China'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this