What is Bioacoustics?
A brief history of Bioacoustics.
Some words about IBAC.







What is Bioacoustics?

.. . .Bioacoustics is the study of animal sound communication. It is, therefore, a branch of zoology, but it has also a strong link with physics and mathematics: sounds follow the laws of acoustics, and communication is governed by the theory of information. The biological aspects of bioacoustics are related to ethology, because sound communication is part of animal behaviour, as well as physiology, considering production and reception of the acoustic signals, and neurosciences, which try to decipher the cerebral treatment of these signals. Bioacoustics is also a peculiar part of ecology, as it attempts to understand the relationships between the features of the sounds an animal produces and the nature of the environment in which they are used and the functions they are designed to serve. Bioacoustics still includes the evolution and ontogeny of sound communication, approaching questions of phylogeny, learning processes and, in the case of man, linguistics.

.. . .It is clear that Bioacoustics is a multidisciplinary branch of the sciences. We also can add the aesthetical aspects of animal sound communication that establish interesting bridges with music, poetry and other fields of human arts. Thus man is part of bioacoustics research, not only as one of the species of animals that use acoustic signals for their communication, but also as an element interacting strongly and extensively with other animal sounds.

Jacques Vielliard

A brief history of Bioacoustics

.. . .Man certainly has given keen attention to the sounds produced by animals since the most remote times. Native tribes around the world, and particularly Indians continuing their cultures in Brazil, show an extremely rich knowledge of the natural sounds in their environment: they are able to distinguish hundreds of species and extensively use onomatopoeic names for birds.
The limiting factor for studying animal sounds is the difficulty of describing them. The first possible approach is through onomatopoeic renderings, as native tribes have continued to do right up to the present time, and which appear in classical Greek writings for a few birds or the famous Aristophanes' frog chorus. More or less sophisticated phonetic renditions are still used in recent bird guides as an aid to field identification.

.. . .A second step in the study of animal sounds was through musical transformations. This is the "Zoophony" created by Hercule Florence, a French adventurer and naturalist, who was hired as the second painter in the Langsdorff expedition to the Amazon in 1821. He was the only one to return sane from that great endeavour and, after settling at Campinas, he put into musical notes his reminiscences of the specific sounds he heard during the three-year journey. Although 'Zoophony' is a much more pleasant name than its modern equivalent 'Bioacoustics', Florence's work had little impact and the musical transcription of natural sounds, despite more recent efforts and improvements, proved to be inadequate.

.. . .It is with the appearance of sound recording techniques that the study of animal sound communication entered the realms of science. The invention of mechanical devices recordings made possible the first bird voices recordings in the late 19th century, and these were still being used as late as 1951, when Pierre Rougeot recorded on a wax cylinder the curious courtship display of the Lyre-tailed Honeyguide Melichneutes robustus in Gabon. At that time magnetic sound recording was already possible, but only with heavy and generator-powered machines.

.. . .In fact, modern bioacoustics started with the availability of lighter and self-powered magnetic recorders. It was only at the beginning of the 1960s that high-fidelity models, namely the Nagra-III and Uher 4000-S, became available; they were not so light, nor cheap, and needed a parabola-mounted microphone to be efficient, but they opened opportunities long sought after by naturalists, ornithologists and herpetologists in the first place. Such novelty in a field of zoology engendered high expectations, some of which were later frustrated, but at the end of the decade bioacoustics was fully established as a new field of scientific research.

.. . .The decade of the 1970s was a period of the revision of the possibilities and limitations of bioacoustics and of the organisation of its structures. Several aims of research, such as the resolution of taxonomic problems, were reconsidered, but new approaches were introduced, notably physiological and ecological ones. Very important for the development of bioacoustics was the establishement of natural sound archives, and the gathering of other scientists, especially some entomologists, physiologists and musical acousticians. Neurobiologists will join latter. So, bioacoustics was born in the 60's, structured in the 70's and represents today an extremely diversified and multidisciplinary field of research, maintaining however a strong unity: its goal to understand animal sound communication.

Jacques Vielliard

Some words about IBAC

.. . .IBAC was born in Denmark in September 1969 as the "International BioAcoustics Council", whose object was to "promote international participation throughout the entire field of bioacoustic activity". One of its major success was to organise annual or biannual meetings, known as IBAC Symposia and now, more simply, as IBAC for International BioAcoustics Congress. This proved to be the best way to gather researchers from the various fields of bioacoustics and to discuss the developments of this quickly progressing scientific area.

.. . .The Executive Committee of IBAC is composed of a maximum of six members who currently are:
.. . ... . .Gianni Pavan (Italy; Chairman),
.. . ... . .Richard Ranft (UK; Honorary Secretary),
.. . ... . .Thierry Aubin (France),
.. . ... . .Matija Gogala (Slovenia),
.. . ... . .Hong Yan (USA),
.. . ... . .Michael Fine (USA).

.. . .IBAC meetings started in 1971 and now reach their XIXth edition, the first one in Latin America and the second one outside Europe. All IBAC members expect that the geographical range of these meetings will continue to grow in the near future.

October 1971
Kinross Scotland
September 1972
Als Denmark
October 1973
Rouen France
November 1975
Jersey UK
September 1977
Bramslevgaard Denmark
October 1979
Vadstena Sweden
September 1981
Sussex UK
September 1983
Songli Norway
September 1985
Texel Netherlands
September 1987
Florac France
September 1989
Cambridge UK
September 1991
Osnabruck Germany
April 1994
Mols Denmark
October 1995
Potsdam Germany
October 1996
Pavia Italy
October 1997
College Station, Texas USA
April 1999
Chartres France
September 2001
Cogne Italy
August 2003
Santa Cruz, ES Brazil

.. . .For further information about the International Bioacoustics Council,
please click here.