From birdsong in the rainforest to whale calls in the oceans, the world is losing the variety of sounds that enriches life. Habitat loss, species extinctions, and industrial noise all contribute to this sonic loss, which cuts off a vital human connection to the Earth.
Sound is made of the most ephemeral stuff on Earth, insubstantial tremors of air. Yet sound is also the great connector and revealer. Because sound waves pass through and around obstacles, they link living beings into sonic information networks. Some of these networks are communicative — songs, music, and speech — and some amount to eavesdropping — predators and competitors listening to one another as they breathe, move, and eat. Listening, then, can reveal the unseen dynamics of the living world. In a time of crisis and rapid change, listening offers us a powerful way to connect and understand.
But what we hear is often sonic loss. Some of this loss is erasure through species extinction. The song of the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō, a honeyeater bird from Hawaii, or the Rabbs’ fringe-limbed treefrog from central Panama will never again ring through forests. Another form of loss is the diminished sonic diversity of habitats: a reduction in the variety of melodies, the richness of layers of different sound frequencies, the range of different tempos, and the temporal variability of sonic expression through daily and seasonal cycles. T
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