Perspectives on an interdisciplinary perspective

In May 2018, the eight of us and eleven experts from the fields of geophysics, animal hearing, movement ecology and seabird ecology gathered together in Liverpool to discuss whether animals, in particular seabirds, could use infrasound to navigate across the vast ocean. During the three-day workshop, funded by the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), we covered a wide range of topics from hydroacoustics to pigeon navigation and microbaroms to the magnetic sense of birds. The meeting was extremely productive, and we managed to identify some research priorities that will help link these disparate fields to better understand how birds hear and navigate. We departed with an agreement that we should formalize these ideas in paper form.

Workshop participants learning about infrasound and bird hearing from Olivier den Ouden and Jeff Zeyl, respectively.

A year and a half on, the “perspective” (this seemed the most appropriate term given the lack of empirical research on the topic) paper is taking shape. In the interim period, the SeabirdSound team have met several times and had lengthy, and sometimes intense, discussions about infrasound, bird navigation and hearing. Given the complexity of the topic and our diverse scientific backgrounds, it is understandable that it has taken some time to get a grasp of each other’s fields and sing from the same hymn sheet. Yet, we have agreed on several hypotheses which might explain how birds could use infrasound to navigate.

In November, in a bid to push the paper over the finish line, we decided to set aside some time to work on a complete draft. The global nature of this project – four research groups in three different continents – makes face-to-face meetings challenging. However, as we wanted to to reduce unnecessary travel time and our carbon footprints, we decided to try out a week-long “google hangout”. We were able to agree on a draft we are happy with, proving that it is possible to conduct truly global and collaborative research from our desks without the need for long-distance travel. We hope that in the new year the scientific community may benefit from our interdisciplinary contribution.