This AI helps save the coral by listening to its songs

Studying audio recordings of coral reefs can help determine their health faster and more accurately, helping to save these vital ecosystems.

Artificial intelligence is already working wonders in many cases. And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg of possibilities; Recently, researchers have used AI capable of learning … coral songs.

Coral reefs are not only marine, but also an essential element of many ecosystems. They form a very important ecological interface between marine and coastal ecosystems. Wherever they live, they play a vital role in providing shelter and food for many species; Corals are both living creatures, but they are also an ecological niche in their own right.

The problem is that our species is extremely ungrateful to these corals. Global warming caused by human activity and the acidification of the oceans have a devastating effect on such a delicate ecosystem. So much so that today, all the studies that are interested in the question are unanimous: The global coral population is slowly dying out of almost total apathy – and with them, all the thousands of symbiotic species that depend on it, including man himself.

It is difficult to diagnose

Just horrible contempt. Because although their effects on humans are not as obvious to tortoises, fish, crustaceans and other species, walls are still very important to our species. They are essential players in a marine ecosystem that provides many services to humanity. Walls benefit directly or indirectly About one billion people on the planetAccording to a US administration survey.

So it is very important to protect these corals from human ingratitude; Because if the disappearance of these walls can be almost invisible to a section of the population, then no one can ignore its very significant consequences. But to protect them, we must already be able to determine their health status. And it seems more complicated.

Determining a person’s health status is not already easy for an individual animal; It is no coincidence that physicians and veterinarians have to research themselves for a long time in order to receive their title. But in the context of coral it is more difficult. Contrary to what their appearance indicates, they are not plants; They are actually megacolonies made up of numerous micro-organisms related to marine anemones (we speak of polyps).

If the coral is so attractive, it is mainly because of its very special relationship with the whole ecosystem. Hiroko Yoshi – Unsplash

And if that’s not enough, these companies don’t work in a vacuum; Corals are one of the best examples of the phenomenon of symbiosis in which countless species provide invaluable environmental services to each other. Their survival is closely linked to the surrounding fauna. If the coral disappears, it will be damaged and vice versa. We are therefore facing a very complex clinical picture.

So we cannot satisfy ourselves by measuring constant constants as important as mammals; To study the health of a coral, it is necessary to adopt a more subtle method and consider a surprising number of factors. And this already complex problem takes on another level of complexity when trying to fit all wall species into the equation.

Reefs are habitats of extremely complex mobility

The researchers quickly realized that the health of the wall was closely linked to that of the satellite species. When the coral is healthy, life extends around it; When it dries, this whole environmental niche pays the price. Researchers therefore had the idea of ​​using this dynamic as an important constant, such as a doctor who measures heart rate.

But they still had to figure out what physical variables they could measure to measure all this. Much work has already begun to diagnose corals from visual clues. We know, for example, that when they dry out they lose their bright color; This is called coral bleaching. But the underlying mechanisms are relatively poorly understood, and this is probably an isolated part of the puzzle.

When coral health is poor, it expels zooxanthellae, tiny symbiotic algae that give the wall its color; This is called coral bleaching. Elapied – Wikimedia Commons

An underwater choir is full of interesting information

Furthermore, these strictly visual methods are often empirical and highly time consuming, while they often yield comparatively approximate results. So they bet on another interesting method of recording coral “songs”. A word that may sound ridiculous; How on earth would you listen to coral music unless you had hallucinations from a serious decompression illness?

Of course, this word should not be taken literally. This is actually the word that researchers have recorded, but it clearly does not come from the underwater choir of tiny polyps; This “Coral song”, Actually means A set of almost invisible sounds emitted by all living creatures when it moves, feeds, and so on.

Mathematically speaking, this background is a representation of noise The signal whose form is closely associated with the population of the wall and its activity. The writers obviously couldn’t catch a sick wall singing blues; But when this signal weakens or changes significantly, we can assume that the health of the wall has changed and that it no longer conducts the same biological activity as normal.

It remains to exploit this information. And just a few years ago, unpacking these words seemed like an insurmountable task; Even with advanced analytical tools, it’s usually a tiny needle in a huge haystack because researchers don’t even know exactly what they’re looking for in these recordings. To dissect this word mix, they have resorted to a technology that is already working wonders in this area: artificial intelligence.

An illustration of the researchers’ approach. Williams et al.

AI for rescue

Whether it’s computer imaging like Imagine, basic research with Alphafold, or even nuclear fusion to name a few, this technology has already revolutionized many areas of research; He has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to make logical connections that completely escape the human brain.

And AI has proven to be absolutely perfect for dealing with this scenario. Because researchers are incapable of determining what matches each individual word sample; But that doesn’t stop AI from doing its job.

The researchers began by training it with a load of recordings held from a healthy wall. They then complement their dataset with other words recorded near the dying coral. At the end of the process, their AI was able to determine the health status of an unknown wall with impressive accuracy.

Our work shows that a computer can detect undetectable patterns in the human ear that can tell us more quickly and accurately about the health of our walls.”, The researchers explain.

This fascinating study certainly will not solve the coral crisis itself; But physicians say that diagnosing the disease is the first step in recovery, and that this is true of corals.

This is a very exciting development”, Said one of the co-authors of the study. Encourages Lamont. “Sound recording and AI can be used to monitor wall health around the world and try to determine if our protection and recovery efforts are working”, He noted. It only remains to be hoped that the answer to this last question will be positive.

Text of the study is available here.

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