Who We Are

The Bioacoustic Unit is a collaboration between the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute and the Bayne Lab at the University of Alberta. The Bioacoustic Unit is the authority on best practices for using acoustic technology in the province and we offer a range of services to support the application of acoustic technology.

What We Do

The Bioacoustic Unit is a leader in the application of wildlife acoustic data to environmental management and research needs. We will assist you in collecting audio data, analyzing the recordings, and reporting the results. In addition, our team is actively engaged in research to enhance our methodologies and better understand our natural acoustic environment.

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The Team

Our team includes scientists and applied researchers from the ABMI, the University of Alberta, and other partnering institutions, dedicated to providing the highest quality and leading edge bioacoustics services in Alberta and beyond.

Dr. Erin Bayne

Dr. Erin Bayne

DirectorUniversity of Alberta

Erin’s research centers on understanding the cumulative ecological impacts of human activities on biodiversity. We combine ecology with cutting edge techniques in wildlife monitoring, survey design, geographic information systems, and habitat modelling. Our goal is to provide recommendations on how biodiversity reacts to various types of human and natural disturbance with the goal of achieving better conservation outcomes. Erin, along with the help of many undergraduate and graduate students are continually working to improve monitoring methods in an effort to increase efficiency and statistical precision.

Monica Kohler

Monica Kohler

Program ManagerABMI

Monica Kohler is a graduate student at the University of Alberta studying wild bees in Alberta’s canola fields. She has over 5 years of experience conducting biological monitoring in agricultural and boreal landscapes, from both an agronomic perspective and as part of the ABMI’s provincial monitoring program. She has experience building relationships with individual land managers and stakeholders to support a range of monitoring activities.

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Hedwig Lankau

Hedwig Lankau

Information CoordinatorUniversity of Alberta

Hedwig is the data manager for the Bioacoustic Unit. She has ten years’ experience conducting ecological field work focusing on bird surveys, bioacoustic equipment applications and data management. Her role within the Bioacoustic Unit is focused on data storage, database development, bioacoustics recording standards, and protocol development.

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Alex MacPhail

Alex MacPhail

Research CoordinatorUniversity of Alberta

Alex’s responsibilities include overseeing the processing of acoustic data and coordinating fieldwork in boreal Alberta. He’s been involved with the project since the pilot study, investigating wetland bird species, owls, bats and amphibians. Alex divides his time between the field in the early spring into late summer, and coordinating data transcription in the fall and winter.

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Dr. Dan Farr

Dr. Dan Farr

Research PartnerGovernment of Alberta

Dan Farr provides project leadership and connects networks to integrate science related to ecosystem services. Throughout his 25-year career in the non-profit and consulting sectors, Dan has contributed applied scientific knowledge to environmental management systems, especially in the areas of land use, biodiversity, and environmental monitoring.

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Students & Collaborators

Scott Wilson

Scott Wilson | MSc Student

Use of an acoustic location system to understand songbird response to vegetation recovery on reclaimed wellsites.

The objective of this project is to demonstrate the potential of an acoustic location system to collect data on songbirds as functional measure of wellsite recovery following reclamation. An acoustic location system is an array of microphones which can be used to estimate the location of a signal using time of arrival differences determined between channels. The comparative use of wellsites and adjacent forest by the songbird community, and behaviour of Ovenbirds surrounding the wellsite will be examined. Information from this study will be used to gain insight into the legacy of wellsite disturbances in the boreal on songbirds.

Laura Garland

Laura Garland | MSc Student

Using remote cameras and autonomous recording units to monitor impacts of human footprint on large mammal biodiversity in Alberta, Canada

My research is focused on studying the impacts of human footprint on large mammal biodiversity and adaptation to human presence. Much of the boreal landscape and soundscape has been altered in recent years due to expanding industrial and recreational activity. As such, I am examining patterns of large mammal habitat use in Alberta’s northeastern boreal via remote cameras and autonomous recording units (ARUs) across areas of varying human impact.

Natalie Sanchez Ulate

Natalie Sanchez Ulate | PhD Student

Understanding why certain songbirds are more or less tolerant to chronic industrial noise

My PhD research is focused on understanding how songbirds are dealing with chronic industrial noise in the boreal forest, evaluating vocal plasticity to determine if this can explain why some species can persist in noisy areas while others avoid such areas. For this, I’m measuring vocal features from recordings of songbirds with territories in noisy and quiet areas. Additionally, I will relate vocal features with beak morphological measurements since beak morphology has been related with variability in vocal performance for passerine birds.

Julia Shonfield

Julia Shonfield | PhD Student

Using bioacoustics to examine the effects of energy development on owls

For my PhD research I’m working on determining the effects of disturbance from energy development on several owl species (Barred Owls, Boreal Owls, and Great Horned Owls) in the boreal forest of northeastern Alberta. I’m specifically interested in the impacts of industrial noise and the physical footprint of energy infrastructure on owl occupancy and habitat use. To get at this, I’ve surveyed for owls using autonomous recording units (ARUs) to detect owls calling in the spring at sites with and without industrial noise sources and in areas with varying amounts of physical disturbance to the landscape, and I’m processing the recordings using a combination of human listening and automated computer recognizers.

Michelle Knaggs

Michelle Knaggs | MSc Student

Songbird responses to wildfire severity and time since fire in the northern boreal forest

I am studying how songbird communities respond to wildfire in the Northwest Territories. I am looking at how burn severity affects songbird abundances and community composition in two large, recent burns. In a larger region where wildfires have occurred over several decades, I am looking at how bird communities differ in forests in varying stages of regeneration.

Emily Upham-Mills

Emily Upham-Mills | MSc Student

Singing behaviour and spring arrival date as indicators of breeding status and habitat quality in the Olive-sided Flycatcher

My research contributes to applied avian conservation by testing methods to monitor breeding success and measure habitat quality for a species at risk songbird, the Olive-sided Flycatcher (OSFL). I use Acoustic Recording Units (ARUs) and automatic recognition software to measure aspects of singing behaviour, such as song rate and amount of time spent singing and relate it to a male bird’s breeding status (single, paired, incubating, feeding young). I am also investigating the spring arrival times of OSFLs by comparing the first date of detection across a large latitudinal gradient to determine if habitat selection drives local spring arrival timing. My field research is conducted in the boreal forest of the Northwest Territories, northern Alberta and the Yukon.

Elly Knight

Elly Knight | PhD Student

Disentangling habitat use of Common Nighthawks in the boreal forest

My PhD thesis uses bioacoustics to understand the importance of different habitat functions for understanding Common Nighthawk habitat use in the boreal forest. The Common Nighthawk is a nocturnal bird species of conservation concern, and is thought to spatially and functionally explicit habitats, which complicates the construction of habitat models for conservation management. I use variation in acoustic signals to infer behaviour, which can be used to differentiate breeding habitats from other habitat functions. My thesis incorporates novel uses of signal recognition technology and citizen science data.

Richard Hedley

Richard Hedley | Postdoctoral Researcher

Sound localization for acoustic monitoring of bird populations in response to fire and oil extraction

My research will use sound localization technology to assess the impact of energy sector activity on birds. Understanding how birds respond to anthropogenic disturbances such as well sites is critical for evaluating impacts of energy development and for improving industry practices. Sound localization is a method for estimating the precise location of a singing bird. Using this technology to track bird movements can reveal how birds perceive and respond to disturbances. By collecting localization data at well sites in various habitats and at different stages of reclamation, my research will pinpoint reclamation practices that increase habitat recovery. The research will focus on species of conservation concern like Rusty Blackbirds and Yellow Rails, for which there is a recognized deficiency in our understanding of how they are affected by industrial activity.

Connor Charchuk

Connor Charchuk | MSc Graduate and Employee

Assessing the effects of understory protection harvesting on songbird communities in Alberta using autonomous recording units

My MSc research centered around the use of ARUs to conduct standard point count surveys in areas harvested through a technique known as understory protection. Understory protection harvesting effects on songbirds had not yet been assessed, and I showed that many species prefer this harvesting technique to traditional clearcutting. Furthermore, many species begin recolonizing understory protection areas within a decade after harvesting, whereas those species may not return to clearcuts for up to 100 years after harvest. I have also been a listener for the Bioacoustic Unit for the past 5 years.

Carrie Ann Adams

Carrie Ann Adams | PhD Student

Bird behavioural response to color and flashing pattern of anthropogenic light at night

I study how different colors and flashing patterns of light attract or deter birds from structures and water bodies. I will record flights calls at light sources to compare the density of flying birds congregating near anthropogenic lights with different colors and flashing patterns. While migratory bird attraction to illuminated structures is well documented, little is known about how the characteristics of light influences their behavior and what types of light may reduce bird attraction. I will also study how light impacts bird behavior on water bodies by using panoramic photography to compare bird landing behavior on ponds illuminated by lights. By changing the light characteristics, it may be possible to deter birds from landing in dangerous areas, such as the bitumen mats on the tailings ponds in the Athabasca Oil Sands, and attract them to safe landing zones.

Jillian Cameron

Jillian Cameron | MSc Student

How does variation in natural and anthropogenic light affect the calling behaviour of anurans in Alberta?

My research aims to understand how anurans (frogs and toads) are affected by different natural and artificial light conditions. Natural light cues that drive animal behaviour may become masked by light pollution associated with increasingly widespread anthropogenic activity. I am using bioacoustics to assess how anurans alter their reproductive calling behaviours in response to natural light cues and if this pattern changes in the presence of anthropogenic light pollution.

Cesar Estevo

Cesar Estevo | MSc Student

Identifying and quantifying climate refugia for boreal birds

My research focus on identifying and quantifying potential climate change refugia for birds in the boreal forest of western Canada. Refugia offer favorable climatic conditions for species to persist amidst the unfavorable regional climate. Climates in areas with varied topography, such as hills, are likely to contain more microclimates that are decoupled from regional climates and function as refugia for birds, due to colder temperatures in high elevations, and processes such as cold-air pooling in valley bottoms and reduced solar radiation on north-facing slopes. This variation can positively affect bird communities by providing suitable climate conditions for them to thrive. I conduct my fieldwork in hills, mountains, and river valleys in different parts of the province, including Central and North-east Alberta.

Jeremiah Kennedy

Jeremiah Kennedy | MSc Student

Exploring avoidance behaviour of small owls towards large owls in Boreal Alberta

For my MSc I will be using autonomous recording units to investigate the possible impacts of Barred and Great Horned Owls on the calling behaviour of the much smaller Boreal Owl. Some research has suggested that small owls will become less responsive when a larger owl is perceived to be present, but changes in unsolicited calling behaviour as a result of large owl occupancy have not yet been explored. As owl populations continue to fluctuate in response to industry, understanding the predator/prey dynamics that occur within this cryptic family is an important step in predicting the impacts of forestry and the energy sector on nocturnal birds.

Justin Johnson

Justin Johnson | MSc Student

It’s about time: examining habitat quality assessment through migrant arrival date

I am investigating the relationship between the relative arrival time of migratory birds into breeding territory and surrounding habitat quality in the Boreal forest. I estimate the arrival of migrants using autonomous recording units: a relatively novel application of bioacoustics that has the potential to rapidly assess habitat qualities over large areas. If successful, arrival times differences may be used instead of more labour intensive and costly methods to identify areas for conservation in the future.

Our Partners and Funders

Without the support of these wonderful people, the work we do would simply not be possible. Thank you!


The Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute conducts world-class monitoring of more than 2500 species and habitats in Alberta. The ABMI leads projects like this one to demonstrate the application of ABMI’s data and expertise to critical environmental planning and management questions.

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