October 22, 2012
Specialized Voice Recognition Tech Provides Insight into Unbelievable Evolution Rarity
By Allison Boccamazzo, TMCnet Web Editor
There are a few times in life where something truly extraordinary happens. Today, that just so happens to be the capturing of highly sought after data to further gain insight and knowledge of what’s considered one of the rarest, most introverted bird species – the Gray Owls of Yosemite. Separated from their fellow flock nearly 30 millennia ago due to a glacial ice separation, the birds were involuntarily left to evolve over time. With less than 200 currently in existence in the small confines of the Sierra Nevada, it’s now being revealed that specialized voice recognition software developed by Joe Medley has captured so much data that it would take seven years to play back – hopefully some of which will shed light on these discreet animals.
Medley, a PhD candidate in ecology at UC Davis, accomplished this by placing 40 data-compression digital audio recorders around the surroundings which are thought to be favored by the uncommon creatures in hopes of identifying them by their mating, feeding and unique calls.
Applying voice recognition technology was really Medley’s only hope, as these birds are so incredibly hard to get a glimpse of that with even the slightest detection of human influence they will completely abandon their nests, according to Steve Thompson, Yosemite’s branch chief of wildlife management.
The owls’ actual location is no longer even being revealed, as they are a highly prized sighting for eager bird watchers and they’re location is thought safest when kept anonymous. “It’ an extremely low population very vulnerable to natural- and human-caused events,” Thompson added. “They don’t have the ability to rebound the way abundant species do. We’re very protective of them.”
The owls’ extraordinary evolutionary history has left researchers and enthusiasts alike perplexed and intrigued as to how the birds have differed over time. “These [birds] are going in a different evolutionary direction than the others, and we don’t know where that is right now,” Joshua Hull, a researcher with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told Newsday.
DNA studies in the past have shown distinct genetic variations between the separated groups such as coloring, food sources and nesting patterns. The 50 terabytes of original data gathered by the voice recognition software, which consisted of owl calls mixed with other sounds ranging from croaking frogs to coyotes to growling bears, was filtered down to specific frequency and time intervals to detect the owls’ signature, low-pitched sound. “The program could discern males and females from juveniles, and even identify nesting females calling for food to help determine reproduction success,” Newsday reported. The results, however, may take some time, as they are still being analyzed.
It just goes to show how far a component found in IVR systems can take us into the unknown.
Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli
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