Science staff writer Kelly Servick has won the Acoustical Society of America's 2013-2014 Science Writing Award in Acoustics for an innovative feature on scientists who use "soundscapes" to study ecological diversity.
Eavesdropping on Ecosystems describes how researchers have collected massive datasets of natural sounds — from bird calls and insect chirps to thunderclaps — to build up aural maps of ecosystems. Inexpensive recording technology has made it easier than ever to capture these data, Servick writes, but the struggle is in turning the data into useful analyses of biodiversity.
Servick came across the idea of soundscape ecology while reporting on another story for Science, on sound surveillance to track endangered or threatened species. "I remember one of the people I interviewed saying 'This is an emerging field,' so I flagged it to revisit, and found a group of very interesting and devoted people trying to push the field forward," she recalled.
Kelly Servick | © David Sharpe, Inc.
The piece includes several embedded audio examples of soundscapes that demonstrate the variety of research problems that scientists can analyze, such as seasonal changes in the "voices" of Australian bushland and the way a dying Fijian coral reef sounds after being emptied of fish. Martyn Green, Science's creative director of multimedia, worked with Servick to develop the soundscape illustrations for the story.
Servick's award is "wonderful recognition for a very imaginative story that was also one of our pioneering multimedia efforts," said Science News Editor Tim Appenzeller.
The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) sponsors the biennial award, given to popular articles on acoustics written by journalists or acoustics professionals. Winners receive a $2000 prize and a $500 stipend to support travel by the recipient to an ASA meeting at which the awards are presented. Servick will receive her award on 4 November at the 170th ASA meeting in Jacksonville, Florida.