PeerJ Awards Winners (Speed Talk) at the African Bioacoustic Community Conference 2020

 

Yesterday, we featured interviews with PeerJ Awards winners for the best full-length presentation at the virtual African Bioacoustic Community Conference 2020. Today, we talk to the winners of PeerJ Awards for best Speed Talk and discuss their research.

Presenters at the conference were kept busy, with more than 420 questions asked across the virtual format. And being online didn’t stop attendees from interacting with each other, with over 1,700 messages posted to a community board, articles regularly being shared and nearly 100 meet ups arranged.

The PeerJ Awards program aims to support students and early career researchers by recognising their work, as well as bringing continued awareness to the benefits that open access has in keeping science open and available to all. The winners receive a complimentary PeerJ paper (upon submission and acceptance through our peer review system) and an interview about their research.

Clinton Factheu PhD candidate at the University of Yaoundé I, Cameroon

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

Since my high school days, I have been interested in Zoology. This led me to study Animal Biology and Physiology at the University of Yaoundé. I am passionate about marine mammal research and conservation. At the moment, I am following a PhD program studying African manatee acoustics, genetics, and habitat use in Lake Ossa, Cameroon.

What aspect of this research did you present at the ABC conference?

I presented ‘A novel approach to identifying the African manatee distribution using passive acoustics’. These preliminary surveys permitted us to record the African manatee vocalizations for the first time ever in the wild and showed that passive acoustics could be very useful in monitoring these animals.

What drew you to bioacoustic research?

I study a very cryptic and elusive species which mostly inhabits murky waters. It is therefore very difficult to study the species through traditional visual detection methods. This is how I was initiated to bioacoustics research, as I was searching for a methodology that could help me mitigate the above difficulties.

Tell us something interesting about the animals you investigate

In contrast to the other sirenians, which are herbivores, African manatees are omnivores. In addition to plants, they feed on clams and fish. Unfortunately, this feeding behaviour leads to fishermen-manatee conflict (which is a cause of manatee poaching) as fishermen complain that manatees steal fish from their nets.

How did you find the virtual conference experience?

The virtual conference is advantageous in that it is more inclusive, less expensive, safer, and you can watch a presentation after broadcasting. The ABC Conference was a great experience to me, I appreciated its organization and the presentations. But I would choose an in-person conference if I had to, as I personally keep more memories of this type of conference. 

What are your next steps?

My next steps are to promote bioacoustics research in Cameroon, to finish my PhD and become one of the very few African manatee experts in my country and in Africa. I also plan to teach marine mammalogy and bioacoustics at universities in Cameroon, as these fields are highly neglected, and to initiate the first country-wide African manatee research and conservation strategy. 


Natasha Shilubane MSc candidate at The University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I am enrolled at The University of the Witwatersrand doing an MSc in Marine Biology, focusing on the endangered humpback dolphin population in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal. My research focuses on dolphin communication and vocalisation. I find animal behaviour very intriguing because animals are quite intentional in the behaviours they exhibit. 

What aspect of this research did you present at the ABC conference?

I am currently analysing acoustic data collected from the Richards Bay harbour in order to examine the temporal patterns of whistle repeats and determine the whistle recapture rate over a four-year sampling period. This will aid in establishing whether humpback dolphins use signature whistle types. I presented the recapture rate of potential signature whistle types over the four-year period, which showed that six whistle types were recaptured at least once. Furthermore, one potential signature whistle type was recaptured across all four years, and another was recaptured over three years.

What drew you to bioacoustic research?

The most interesting thing about bioacoustics is being able to see and hear how various species communicate. Marine mammals navigate an environment completely different to what humans are used to and have evolved various communication methods for their specific environment. Bioacoustic research thus gives researchers a glimpse into the unknown and allows us to link behaviour to sound and vice-versa.

Tell us something interesting about the animals you investigate

Humpback dolphins are very elusive and shy animals. They inhabit near-shore, murky waters which makes them hard to spot during land- or boat-based surveys. There is not much known about these animals, to the point where the public tends to be shocked when they spot a dolphin with a hump on its back.

How did you find the virtual conference experience?

The virtual conference experience was enjoyable, especially because attendees could still interact in real-time through the chat function on the conference platform. It was definitely cheaper than attending in-person, but the biggest benefit for me is that the presentations are available at the end of the conference for attendees to re-visit their favourites or watch the talks they have missed.

What are your next steps? 

The next steps include: examining the temporal patterns of whistle repeats, describing the inter-whistle-intervals and inter-loop-intervals in order to compare these to the SIGID timing criteria. Once that is complete, the inter-whistle-intervals will be used to determine whether the whistle repeats of the potential signature whistle types are similar to those of bottlenose dolphins, thus establishing signature whistle use in the Richards Bay humpback dolphin population.


Kinga Kocsis PhD candidate at the Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests? 

I do neuroscientific research at the Research Centre for Natural Sciences in Budapest, Hungary. I study the affective sensory processing of the mouse brain by electrophysiology in awake and anesthetized animals. In my PhD studies, I have investigated deep brain pathways which have a role in the learned discrimination of threatening sounds. The so-called thalamic neurons of these pathways can ensure fast change in behavior and internal state in imminent danger by conveying multisensory cues. 

I have become interested in whether these neurons contribute to the extraction of salient and distinctive features from conspecific threat-related vocalizations, too. I started with recording and playing back ultrasonic distress calls together with bachelor students Félix Jártó and Roland Zsoldos.

What aspect of this research did you present at the ABC conference?

I presented the types of adult distress calls we have recorded so far, including a previously uncharacterized vocalization. I also highlighted some preliminary data showing unique thalamic neuronal response patterns elicited by the playback of this call type.

What drew you to bioacoustic research? 

I have always been intrigued by the prosodic features of vocal communication, such as intonation and syllable-stress. Since innate ultrasonic calls represent rich acoustic complexity with behavioral relevance, I have been drawn to study how mice extract affective prosody and valence from their own calls. 

Tell us something interesting about the animals you investigate

They are transgenic mice having an extra enzyme which allows the photosensitivity and light activation/inhibition of certain neurons following virus injection into the brain.

How did you find the virtual conference experience?

Now that most of our social interactions happen online, the virtual meeting was comfortable and I could learn a lot through the online platform. However, recording a talk or presenting online is still an exciting task I need to practice.

What are your next steps?

We plan to simultaneously monitor mouse behavior and thalamic cellular activity upon playback of original and modified aversive ultrasonic vocalizations in order to test their neural processing and behavioral effect. We intend to determine which salient call features (such as length, amplitude or frequency modulation) are encoded at this neural level. After I finish my PhD studies, I would like to focus more on bioacoustics and more specifically on vocal communication research, which I plan to adopt as my main research field.


Lisa Walker Director, Grooved Whale Project 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I am a musician and composer applying my understanding of human music to better understand humpback whale song. I believe our two systems of organization are much closer than one might think, and by focusing on our overlapping features we may gain insights into our shared experience of sound. My classical violin training has given me a good grasp of melody and my training in traditional west African drumming has given me insight into the organization and complexities of rhythm.

What aspect of this research did you present at the ABC conference?

I presented on the concept of rhythm as the common feature linking human musicality and whale song. Currently there is scant research into rhythm in either species so we are just at the starting point of understanding the function of temporal patterning of sound.

What drew you to bioacoustic research?

I was first introduced to humpback whales by Dr. Fred Sharpe of the Alaska Whale Foundation, who thought that with my musical training I might be able to detect patterns in humpback whale vocalizations. I was invited up to Alaska to experience the whale’s feeding behavior and feeding calls after which I went to Hawaii to experience the winter song. I’ve been hooked ever since and now take every opportunity to be with these animals in the field.

Tell us something interesting about the animals you investigate

Humpback song is thought to be the most complex vocalization in the animal world, apart from human music. Their continual evolutions of the song are what fascinate me the most, that these animals compose, innovate and culturally transmit their novel offerings reflects on their intelligence, emotional capacity and social complexity. 

How did you find the virtual conference experience?

I found the virtual conference convenient but I have to admit, I miss seeing people’s faces when presenting and the interaction that takes place in between sessions. 

What are your next steps?

I am currently working with Dr. Laurance Doyle at the SETI Institute and Dr. Fred Sharpe of the Alaska Whale Foundation on a cross-taxa approach to human music and humpback song using information theory and machine learning to detect deep-level pattern structures and logics. Creatively, I am applying my findings to compose music that crosses both our species’ boundary zones such that we might ultimately communicate with one another.

 

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We at PeerJ look forward to the third African Bioacoustics Community conference in 2022!

See interviews and the listing of 2019 PeerJ Award winners on the PeerJ blog here, and keep an eye out for the 2020 round-up that will appear on our blog soon
If you are organizing a conference or workshop and would like to offer a PeerJ Award at your event, please let us know – communities@peerj.com