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The avian dawn chorus across Great Britain: using new technology to study breeding bird song

BROOKER, STUART,ALAN (2020) The avian dawn chorus across Great Britain: using new technology to study breeding bird song. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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The avian dawn chorus is a period of high song output performed daily around sunrise during the breeding season. Singing at dawn is of such significance to birds that they remain motivated to do so amid the noise of numerous others. Yet, we still do not fully understand why the dawn chorus exists. Technological advances in recording equipment, data storage and sound analysis tools now enable collection and scrutiny of large acoustic datasets, encouraging research on sound-producing organisms and promoting ‘the soundscape’ as an indicator of ecosystem health. Using an unrivalled dataset of dawn chorus recordings collected during this thesis, I explore the chorus throughout Great Britain with the prospect of furthering our understanding and appreciation of this daily event. I first evaluate the performance of four automated signal recognition tools (‘recognisers’) when identifying the singing events of target species during the dawn chorus, and devise a new ensemble approach that improves detection of singing events significantly over each of the recognisers in isolation. I then examine daily variation in the timing and peak of the chorus across the country in response to minimum overnight temperature. I conclude that cooler temperatures result in later chorus onset and peak the following dawn, but that the magnitude of this effect is greater at higher latitude sites with cooler and less variable overnight temperature regimes. Next, I present evidence of competition for acoustic space during the dawn chorus between migratory and resident species possessing similar song traits, and infer that this may lead either to fine-scale temporal partitioning of song, such that each competitor maintains optimal output, or to one competitor yielding. Finally, I investigate day-to-day attenuation of song during the leaf-out period from budburst through to full-leaf in woodland trees, and establish the potential for climate-driven advances in leaf-out phenology to attenuate song if seasonal singing activity in birds has not advanced to the same degree. I find that gradual attenuation of sound through the leaf-out process is dependent on the height of the receiver, and surmise that current advances in leaf-out phenology are unlikely to have undue effect on song propagation. This project illustrates the advantage of applying new technology to ecological studies of complex acoustic environments, and highlights areas in need of improvement, which is essential if we are to comprehend and preserve our natural soundscapes.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:dawn chorus; birds; bird song; animal communication; bioacoustics; ecoacoustics; sound analysis
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Science > Biological and Biomedical Sciences, School of
Thesis Date:2020
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:17 Sep 2020 14:41

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