Calling in the wilderness: the use of Passive Acoustic Monitoring in biodiversity surveys

CASE award with Frankfurt Zoological Society (NEWSON_UBTO20ARIES)

Calling in the wilderness: the use of Passive Acoustic Monitoring in biodiversity surveys

CASE award with Frankfurt Zoological Society (NEWSON_UBTO20ARIES)

Project Description


Dr Stuart Newson, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)

Dr Ben Milner, School of Computing Sciences, University of East Anglia

Prof Phil Atkinson, British Trust for Ornithology

Dr Adham Ashton-Butt, British Trust for Ornithology


Scientific background

By 2020, the BTO will be in its second year of an exciting 5-year landscape restoration program in Belarus and Ukraine – ‘Wilderness without borders: creating one of the largest natural landscapes in Europe’.  The project aims to designate new, and upgrade existing conservation areas, to create a transboundary protected and interconnected core area of 1.2 million ha, within the wider Prypiat / Polesia area covering approximately 5.8 million ha.

Underpinning this process, it is crucial for decisions to be made on robust and representative assessment of the biodiversity and ecological value of the region. However, large-scale monitoring of wildlife, and particularly nocturnal wildlife remains challenging.

Research methodology

This project will examine the potential of passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) as a tool for providing large-scale baseline data for nocturnal wildlife. Specifically, the student will combine the deployment of acoustic recorders in the Prypiat and Polesia wilderness area with analysis of acoustic data. As call libraries are essential for building supervised automatic classifiers, gaps in species coverage will be identified and prioritised for fieldwork effort in 2020. The student will evaluate the BTO’s existing approach for building random forest classifiers, in relation to new deep learning algorithms (Convolutional Neural Networks, CNNs), to develop a robust framework and tools for automated species identification. With four seasons of data (2019-2022), the student will evaluate the potential of the approach for providing robust data on the distribution, relative abundance and habitat requirements of the focal taxonomic groups.


The successful candidate will receive training in passive biodiversity monitoring approaches; the construction, management and analyses of large, long-term monitoring and acoustic databases; machine-learning including CNN’s and is expected to achieve a high level of competency in statistical modelling. Furthermore, the student will obtain field research and design skills including in large-scale sample design, small mammal trapping and handling, and multi-taxa identification.

Person specification

Candidates will have a degree in biology, ecology, environmental sciences, mathematics or computing with a strong interest in biology. Experience of fieldwork, handling large datasets and familiarity with computer packages such as R, MATLAB and Python will be an advantage.


  • 1. Gibb et al. (2019) Methods Ecol. Evol. 10: 169.
  • 2. Newson et al. (2017) Methods Ecol. Evol. 8: 105.
  • 3. Barre et al. (2019). Methods Ecol. Evol. 10: 1171.
  • 4. Vickers et al. (2019). European Association for Signal Processing (EUSIPCO) 2019.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.
  • Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area (see
  • This studentship will start on 1st October 2020, and the closing date for applications is 23:59 on 15th January 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor.
  • Please note that the joint NERC-ESRC ARIES-SeNSS studentship projects have different deadlines and funding arrangements. For full details please visit, or contact

Studentship Open for Applications

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