Developing the NHM Wildlife Sound Archive


This is funding awarded by the Natural History Museum for work on the Wildlife Sound Database itself and for importing additional datasets. A summary of the case for support is provided below. The project team is Ben Price and Ed Baker

The NHM Sound Library is a product of the BMNH Acoustic Laboratory (run: 1970s-90s) to record the sounds of singing insects, primarily Orthoptera, but until recently the results of this work have been inaccessible. Recent interest in acoustic monitoring of environments and automated species identification is creating a need for digitial, annotated archives of wildlife sounds. The existing recordings from the Sound Library have been digitised and are in the process of being made available online by Baker (Wildlife Sounds Database). The recordings made available here underpin a number of papers published by David Ragge (NHM, retired) and others on the acoustics of European Orthoptera and their relation to species boundaries. In addition a donation of sound recordings by Hewitt (UEA) is likely to contain important recordings relating to European hybrid zones within the Orthoptera. Furthermore Price has a collection of cicada recordings from South Africa and India that are linked to published and ongoing research of species complexes.

This project will (1) integrate the new sound libraries into the exisiting website infrastructure, making them available to the scientific community; (2) create new functionality to annotate recordings on the website - allowing introductory speech and extraneous noises to be identified and removed when performing acoustic analyses. In addition we will also (3) assess the state of the magnetic tapes from the Hewitt collection and create a plan for their digitisation. Digitisation of these tapes may not be possible within the current project timeframe, depending on their state of conservation, in which case we will work to find the required funding. Finally (4) method and data papers decribing the project will be published in the Biodiversity Data Journal.

The online tool for sound archiving and analysis will benefit both external and internal (NHM based) researchers with an interest in acoustics. By providing multiple recordings of many species, the Sound Library will have great value as a training set for machine learning projects such as those currently being investigated between the NHM and UCL. Finally by providing global access to these new recordings and creating a framework for additional acoustic datasets to be incorporated this project will strengthen the place of the NHM in the field of insect acoustic analysis.

Core Outputs

Digitisation of Cicada Sounds

The first section of the Global Cicada Sounds Collection (South Africa and Malawi) has been digitsed and made available (publication | collection on BioAcoustica).

Digitisation of Orthoptera sounds from PhD thesis of Nicola Flanagan

These items were passed to the project from Godfrey Hewitt's lab group at the University of East Anglia.

Annotation and display of Audio Files

The wavesurfer.js JavaScript library has been integrated with Scratchpads using code based on the wavesurfer Drupal module developed by Michael Mallet. Wavesurfer.js provides a waveform player allowing for accurate selection of annotations. Sections of audio files can be annotated, with analysed regions being displayed on the waveform player.

BioVeL Workflow

The computational analysis functionality of the BioAcoustica is performed by the BioVeL portal. The workflows used in these analyses have been published.


Baker E, Price BW, Rycroft SD, Hill J, Smith VS. (2015) BioAcoustica: a free and open repository and analysis platform for bioacoustics. Database: The Journal of Biological Databases and Curation. 2015: 2015:bav054. doi:10.1093/database/bav054.

Baker E, Price BW, Rycroft SD, Villet MH (2015) Global Cicada Sound Collection I: Recordings from South Africa and Malawi by B. W. Price & M. H. Villet and harvesting of BioAcoustica data by GBIF. Biodiversity Data Journal.  3:e5792.  doi:10.3897/BDJ.3.e5792

Baker E, Broom Y-s (2016) Natural History Museum Sound Archive I: Orthoptera: Gryllotalpidae Leach, 1815, including 3D scans of burrow casts of Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa Linnaeus, 1758 and Gryllotalpa vineae Bennet-Clark, 1970. Biodiversity Data Journal. 3:e7442 doi:10.3897/BDJ.3.e7442

Additional Outputs

Additional features

Blog posts

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith