Bioacoustics researcher wins top award for positive impact toward solving global challenges

  • An award that recognizes scientists whose research makes a positive impact on society by addressing global challenges has been given to Zuzana Burivalova.
  • The principal investigator for the Sound Forest Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, much of her bioacoustics research has focused on soundscapes, which are entire sonic characteristics of ecosystems.
  • Monitoring soundscapes has important conservation applications in places like tropical rainforests where Burivalova’s work is centered.

Bioacoustics researcher Zuzana Burivalova is the 2021 recipient of the Driving Global Impact award, recognizing her work on conservation of tropical forests.

The award, given annually by the publishers of the journal Nature, recognizes early career scientists whose research makes a positive impact on society by addressing global challenges. Burivalova, who also receives a cash prize of $30,000, was announced as the winner at a virtual ceremony on November 30th.

She is the principal investigator for the Sound Forest Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has focused much of her research on soundscapes, which are entire sonic environments of ecosystems – like the tropical forests she specializes in – which are captured by networks of remote recording devices.

“I am honored to have been selected for the award, and it comes at a very opportune moment,” she told Mongabay. “The recent climate summit in Glasgow makes it clear that nature-based climate solutions are an important way forward. With this award I will research how we can have tropical forests that not only lock up carbon, but that are also able to serve communities and support rich biodiversity.”

Zuzana Burivalova in Borneo. Photo credit: Purnomo
Zuzana Burivalova in Borneo. Photo credit: Purnomo

Burivalova’s lab seeks to better understand how human behavior is impacting biodiversity within tropical rainforests by deploying remote recorders that detect the presence (or lack) of birds, bugs, and other creatures – and also gunshots and chainsaws, evidence of which can empower local communities or conservationists to stop or prevent such activities – and this work has taken her around the world.

“I am also very thankful to all of my mentors and collaborators,” she added, “including at Mongabay, where we worked together on the Conservation Effectiveness platform and other projects.”

Installing an acoustic recorder to monitor forest soundscapes in New Guinea, which can reveal much about biodiversity and human activity. Image by Justine Hausheer/The Nature Conservancy.

Those other projects include co-authoring, with Mongabay CEO Rhett Butler and The Nature Conservancy’s Eddie Game, “The Sound of a Tropical Forest” which was published by the journal Science and called for improvements in processing and analysis of huge acoustic data sets, which at the moment are a major bottleneck in soundscape research.

“The judges were impressed by the novel approaches that Zuzana and her team are taking to assess biodiversity in tropical forests – an area of the utmost importance as we work to understand and mitigate the effects of deforestation on species,” said vice president of publishing at Nature Richard Hughes. “Zuzana is also taking proactive measures to share with other researchers which conservation strategies succeed and which fail.”

View all of Mongabay’s reporting on the use of bioacoustics for conservation here.

Banner image: Zuzana Burivalova recording in Bavaria. Photo courtesy of Tobias Corts.

Related listening from Mongabay’s podcast: following recent news of a $24 million gift establishing the K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Mongabay’s podcast took a close look at the technology, listen here:

Further watching on this topic: Burivalova discusses the power of bioacoustics, watch here: