Conservation Hero: Zuzana Burivalova

Image credit: Courtesy of Purnomo, Mongabay

Conservation Hero: Zuzana Burivalova

Nature, often visualized as serene forests, towering mountains, or pristine beaches, is audibly characterized by the echoing calls of its inhabitants—be it the ribbits of frogs, the chatter of squirrels, or the distant calls of seabirds. Besides offering solace to our bustling minds, these ambient sounds indicate the health and vibrancy of their respective ecosystems.

Zuzana Burivalova: The Maestro of Bioacoustics

Zuzana Burivalova stands out as a pioneering bioacoustics researcher who harnesses soundscapes to gauge the impacts and success of conservation efforts. Her groundbreaking work in tropical forests earned her the prestigious Driving Global Impact Award in 2021.

Academic journey

Burivalova's passion for Nature took root at Oxford University, where she procured her bachelor's degree in Biological Sciences. She furthered her academic pursuits with a master's in Environmental Science from the University of Geneva. Subsequently, she was awarded a PhD in Tropical Forest Conservation and Ecology from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich.

As a part of The Nature Conservancy Nature Net Science Fellows Program, Burivalova further enriched her research during her post-doctoral tenure at Princeton University. Here, she grappled with a persistent challenge in environmental conservation: How can one accurately measure its effectiveness?

The dilemma primarily arises from the remote and inaccessible Nature of protected areas. These havens of biodiversity, spanning vast terrains and housing a myriad of species ranging from mammals to amphibians, present logistical challenges for monitoring.

Image credit: Courtesy of Mongabay

Listening to the forest

In 2019, a transformative approach was adopted by Burivalova and her team. They affixed small, sensitive recorders to trees within the Indonesian forest. These gadgets, capable of capturing animal vocalizations spanning several hundred meters, offered an acoustic window into the forest's health. Through these recordings, scientists discerned:

  • The richness of the forest's biodiversity is based on the presence or absence of specific calls.
  • Evidence of human disturbances, like revving chainsaws or gunshots, enables swift counteractions against illicit activities.

The Sound Forest Lab

Burivalova's quest for understanding the sonic footprint of conservation led her to establish the Sound Forest Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This institution is dedicated to studying the positive and detrimental influence of human activities on various species.

Her research expeditions have whisked her away to the lush jungles of Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, and Borneo. In 2021, she spearheaded the inaugural bioacoustic workshop in Gabon's Guinea Coastal Forests and Mangroves Bioregion.

Zuzana Burivalova. Image credit: Courtesy of ECAL College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Accolades and recognition

The journal Nature conferred upon Burivalova their Driving Global Impact award for her stellar contributions. This accolade annually honors early-career scientists shaping the future by addressing global issues through their research.

In addition to her primary work, Burivalova collaborates with institutions like the Department of Forest & Wildlife Ecology, The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE), and Mongabay. Through her endeavors, she emphatically underscores that nature conservation not only preserves our environment but also keeps the symphony of the wild alive.

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