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The Acoustic Index User's Guide: A practical manual for defining, generating and understanding current and future acoustic indices

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Ecoacoustics, the study of environmental sound, is a rapidly growing discipline offering ecological insights at scales ranging from individual organisms to whole ecosystems. Substantial methodological developments over the last 15 years have streamlined extraction of ecological information from audio recordings. One widely used set of methods are acoustic indices, which offer numerical summaries of the spectral, temporal and amplitude patterns in audio recordings. Currently, the specifics of each index's background, methodology and the soundscape patterns they are designed to summarise, are spread across multiple sources. Critically, details of index calculation are sometimes scarce, making it challenging for users to understand how index values are generated. Discrepancies in understanding can lead to misuse of acoustic indices or reporting of spurious results. This hinders ecological inference, replicability and discourages adoption of these tools for conservation and ecosystem monitoring, where they might otherwise provide useful insight. Here we present the Acoustic Index User's Guide—an interactive RShiny web app that defines and deconstructs eight of the most commonly used acoustic indices to facilitate consistent application across the discipline. We break the acoustic indices calculations down into easy‐to‐follow steps to better enable practical application and critical interpretation of acoustic indices. We demonstrate typical soundscape patterns using a suite of 91 example audio recordings: 66 real‐world soundscapes from terrestrial, aquatic and subterranean systems around the world, and 25 synthetic files demonstrating archetypal soundscape patterns. Our interpretation figures signpost specific soundscape patterns likely to be reflected in acoustic indices' values. This RShiny app is a living resource; additional acoustic indices will be added in the future through collaboration with authors of pre‐existing and new indices. The app also serves as a best‐practice template for the information required when publishing new acoustic indices, so that authors can facilitate the widest possible understanding and uptake of their indices. In turn, improved understanding of acoustic indices will aid effective hypothesis generation, application and interpretation in ecological research, ecosystem monitoring and conservation management.


Publication status: Published


ecoacoustics, bioacoustics, soundscape, autonomous recording unit, passive acoustic monitoring

Is Part Of


Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/V007866/1)
Leverhulme Trust (RPG‐2020‐160, ECF‐2020‐571)