I recently was fortunate enough to attend the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference held at Millersville University in Millersville, Pennsylvania. This conference is a must-attend for anyone in the Mid-Atlantic or New England areas that enjoys the benefits of native plants. From hardcore plant talks to landscape design, this conference is sure to please the plant geek in you! I’ve been attending for the past few years, but this year had a special treat in store during one of the evening sessions.
Will Hershberger is an expert in “insect concertos.” He has recorded thousands of hours of specific insect, amphibian, mammal, and bird songs in nature. His talk consisted of playing animal sound after animal sound, highlighting each unique wavelength of song. He showed us the spectrograph (a visual representation of the audio) while each song played. It was so cool to see the actual song in graph form—you can begin to see the mathematical sequence for some insects by watching the wavelength and frequency of each song.
Needless to say, I was fascinated! After his talk, Hershberger was signing books, and I couldn’t resist the urge to talk to him about my nature and music theory. I went up to him and began with “I’ll try to keep this short…,” probably what every speaker does not want to hear, but he humored me and I did keep it short. In sum, my theory is this: When listening to nature’s chorus, it seems there are so many mathematical similarities to classical music—almost as if you could sync the two together and find similar patterns (I have a book from the 1930s on birdsongs that explores this theory).
His eyes lit up as he explained to me his buddy’s Ph.D. research. In it, his friend recorded animals in a variety of environments: primary succession, secondary succession, disturbed sites, residential neighborhoods, etc. Through his recordings, the friend discovered that in an undisturbed site in nature, each class of animal (insects, birds, amphibians, etc.) spoke to other members of the population in a distinct octave, while at the disturbed sites, all animals sang in the same octave, limiting their ability to hear each other over all the extra “noise.” No wonder it’s hard for animals to stage a comeback after their habitat is disturbed!
This tidbit of knowledge has encouraged me to plant more natives in my garden, to encourage the insects and all animals to settle in, feel comfortable, and start talking again! Won’t you join me?
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