Thanks to the efforts of a team of researchers, the hidden world of Britain's mice, voles and shrews has just been opened up to new audiences. Using audio recordings the team has developed an approach that should help to improve our understanding of the status and distribution of these easily overlooked species.
While rarely seen, Britain's mice, voles, shrews, rats and dormice do occasionally give away their presence through their vocalisations. A team of researchers has spent the last 18 months recording and studying these vocalisations in order to develop 'acoustic classifiers', which can be used to reveal the presence of different small mammal species in recordings made by automatic recording devices left in the field. This approach could be particularly valuable for determining the presence of different small mammal species on nature reserves or at sites where development is being planned.
Dr Stuart Newson, lead researcher on the project, commented "Our approach complements existing monitoring approaches for small mammals, adding data from many more locations for a suite of species whose status information is difficult to obtain and, in many cases, is lacking or not up to date. The collection of acoustic data for small mammals could be extremely cost-effective; small mammals often vocalise at night and their calls are often collected as 'by-catch' by those surveying bats. By running these recordings through the BTO's acoustic pipeline, small mammal calls can be detected, and the species identified." Dr Newson continued "This approach could help conservation efforts by providing an economical and robust method for detecting the presence and abundance of small mammals, such as Hazel Dormice in woodland or introduced Brown Rats on seabird islands."