Research

Research in the Kitzes Lab focuses on measuring, understanding, and predicting biodiversity loss on a planet increasingly dominated by human activities. The central question that guides our research is

How does human alteration of natural habitat impact species abundance and diversity at large spatial scales?

Research projects in our lab naturally divide into three complementary themes: bioacoustics, conservation, and spatial macroecology. Many of our projects lie at the intersection of at least two, if not all three, of these areas.

Bioacoustics

Our group’s research focuses heavily on the development and application of bioacoustic methods for surveying biodiversity. We have purchased nearly 3,000 inexpensive field recorders (AudioMoths), which we and our collaborators have deployed across more than a dozen field sites around the world for a variety of purposes. Our group is also heavily involved in the development of machine learning classifiers for wildlife vocalizations and the exploration of statistical frameworks for interpreting the resulting classifier output. Some of our currently active projects include:

  • Developing and maintaining OpenSoundscape, our lab’s open source software for bioacoustic analysis. This package is integral to our research and is supported by several funding sources.
  • Developing an inexpensive and open source hardware and software platform for acoustic localization, which will allow us to spatially locate individual singing birds in the field, ultimately providing a means of estimating population sizes from automated acoustic recordings. This work is supported by a National Science Foundation Infrastructure Innovation in Biological Research grant.
  • Developing variations of occupancy models and protocols for expert annotation to draw robust, efficient research conclusions from uncertain machine learning classifier output.

Conservation

One of our lab’s primary missions is to support biodiversity conservation through better measurement tools, empirical data, and predictive models. We are particularly interested in the effects of habitat disturbance, including both habitat loss and modification, on particular species of concern in specific focal regions. Some of our currently active projects include:

  • Initializing long-term monitoring for Golden-winged Warbler, Wood Thrush, and Cerulean Warbler (along with other focal species) in Dynamic Forest Restoration Blocks in central and eastern Pennsylvania. This work is supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
  • Developing classification models for Ruffed Grouse and American Woodcock, two game birds of particular interest in eastern US forests.
  • Using automated acoustic methods to survey rare, endangered, and potentially recovering frog populations at field sites across North and South America.
  • Collaborating with ecologists at the Smithsonian Institution to conduct large-scale acoustic surveys at American Prairie Reserve.
  • Supporting Dr. Steve Latta (National Aviary) and colleagues in searching for vocalizations of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in southern Louisiana.

Spatial ecology

Beyond the particular details of individual species and habitats, we have long been interested in more general questions related to species’ distributions across space, how these are generated, and how they are affected by human disturbances. Some of our currently active projects include:

  • Exploring regularities in macroecological patterns, such as species-area relationships and species-abundance distributions, and explaining their shapes as statistical properties of large, complex systems.