Winter Speaker Series

2022-2023 Zoom Speaker Series

Agro-acoustics: Listening to the Sounds of Soils

Louise Roberts
Lecturer & Asst. Prof. Marine Biology, U. of Liverpool, UK

Wednesday, April 12, 2023
Video at Bottom of Page

Friends of Merrymeeting Bay’s (FOMB) seventh presentation of our 26th annual Winter Speaker Series, Agro-acoustics: Listening to the Sounds of Soils features Louise Roberts, Assistant Professor of Marine Biology, University of Liverpool. FOMB’s Winter Speaker Series presentations are again being held via Zoom and are accessible via hyperlink at the top of the FOMB web page. This event takes place Wednesday, April 12th, at 7 pm.

Every day we walk around listening to birds, bees, other people, wind, dogs, traffic and other sounds from things we can generally see or are familiar with. But, unseen and un-heard animals living beneath us control numerous ecological services directly tied to soil health including primary plant productivity, water quality, climate regulation and pest suppression. Information concerning soil biodiversity however lags behind that we know for other environments. While the majority of soil animals enhance soil health, soils also have pests that erode both soil and plant health, such as white grubs which cause turf damage.

Current methods for monitoring soil-dwelling animals involve sampling the soil and hand sorting to find animals. These destructive methods are effective, but they are time consuming and require significant training in insect identification. Due to this, agricultural and horticultural industries increasingly rely on pesticide applications to manage soil pests. These practices involve site-wide pesticide applications and without any assessment of pest presence, identity, or population size. There is evidence these applications may not be necessary in all cases. Additionally, such practices are unsustainable, having negative non-target impacts on organisms involved in pollination, decomposition and biological pest suppression.

Thus, there is both economic and environmental incentive for developing a non-invasive technique for soil insect detection and soil health monitoring. Tonight’s discussion focusses on research into the novel area of soil acoustics, based in part on recording of soil sounds across New York State, from golf courses to cemeteries, to ascertain whether this methodology can be used to detect pests and beneficial species.

Louise Roberts is a lecturer/assistant professor in Marine biology at University of Liverpool, UK. Prior to moving to the UK, Dr. Roberts was a postdoctoral associate in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University (NY) in the laboratory of associate professor Kyle Wickings. While in the US, Roberts also was an Adjunct Scientist-In-Residence Fellow at the Shoals Marine Laboratory on Appledore Island off the southern Maine coast and operated jointly by Cornell and UNH. Her research interests include passive acoustic monitoring of below-ground invertebrates, behavioural and sensory ecology, and human impacts both in aquatic and terrestrial systems. Roberts has a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from the Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies, University of Hull, UK and a Masters in Marine Biology from Bangor University, UK. She has published extensively in the field of anthropogenic sound effects on marine organisms.

FOMB hosts our Winter Speaker Series October-May, on the second Wednesday of each month. Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the series continues via Zoom. The FOMB May 10th presentation: Order in the Pownalborough Court House, 1761-2023 features Place-Based Historian Jay Robbins. This event takes place at 7:00 pm with the Zoom registration link available at a week or so prior to the presentation.

Speaker Series presentations are free, open to the public. Visit to see speaker biographies, full event schedules, video recordings of past presentations, become a member, and learn more about how you can help protect beautiful Merrymeeting Bay and the Gulf of Maine.

For more information contact FOMB at 207-666-3372 or

Watercolors by
Sarah Stapler