Are We Really Listening?

By Erin Moir, Co-Executive Director, EcoSuperior



Superior Outdoors


Walking through the forest can be an engaging experience: the smells, the colours, the textures, and the sounds all interact with us as we take in the scenery. The sounds of the forest resonate throughout, enhancing our experience and even indicating forest health. From vibrant calls, trills, and honks of birds to the howls, chirps, and squeaks of mammals, insects, and amphibians all create an orchestra of beings. Research shows that the quieter the forest, the less healthy that ecosystem may be, indicating low biodiversity and potential risk to human and non-human species. By recording forest sounds—or soundscapes as they are often referred to in Europe and North America—researchers can monitor species groups (like mammals on low frequencies and insects on higher frequencies) or individuals (such as blue jay versus cardinal). Recordings are analyzed to give scientists a range of either improvement or decline after an event like fire, harvesting, or flooding by measuring counts of different calls—both frequency and diversity. The science of marine sounds has also been increasing over the last few decades, and with that comes the realization that sound profoundly impacts any ecosystem. Climate change, which creates warmer, hotter air, moves sounds faster, making it more difficult for species to catch and receive communications or emit necessary sounds for breeding, predator warnings, and kinship, which are practices essential for species survival. So, what does this mean for us? Living on the shores of Lake Superior in the heart of the boreal forest, it is our responsibility to care for this place. Imagine a silent forest walk. How does that change your appreciation for the forest? As a species that tends to be visual learners and engagers, sound sometimes comes secondary to our experiences. But taking sounds for granted might just be another indication of how people are disconnected from place and sound. The next time you are out for a walk or sitting around the campfire, take note of the sounds of all beings around you—who is dominating? Embrace the ravens croaking, marvel in the squirrels chattering, and appreciate the eerie wolf howl. Without these sounds, we are missing out on a collective ecosystem experience. Close your eyes, open your ears, and engage in making a healthy future for people and the planet.