David Dunn, Assistant Professor of Music, received a patent to help fight bark beetles ravaging Western forests in November 2016 by joining forces with two forest scientists from Northern Arizona University to combat an insect infestation that is killing millions of trees throughout the West. They are applying the results of nearly a decade of Professor Dunn’s acoustic research in an unconventional collaborative effort to stop bark beetles from tunneling through the living tissue of weakened, drought-stressed pine trees.
“After making hundreds of hours of recordings inside hundreds of trees, I made a large sound composition that represented the incredible diversity of sounds made by a couple of species of bark beetles and their changing responses to the life cycle of tree hosts that they invade,” said Dunn. “This was released as a CD (The Sound of Light in Trees) that garnered a lot of attention from both the sound, art, and music community, as well as various scientists involved in bio-acoustic research. After that interest emerged, I was approached by my future colleagues at Northern Arizona University who not only wanted to replicate what I had done, but to collaborate on how to push this research further. These further results led to the device and protocol that we have just patented.”
Professor Dunn believes he could easily scale up to the level of a commercial orchard, by using an FM signal to transmit the soundtrack to receivers on each tree. This could be useful for targeting ambrosia beetles, which threaten agriculture in Southern California. And for forests, he envisions a “sound wall” that could block beetles from travelling to new areas.
And he is energized by the success of his collaboration with the forest scientists. “We have now entered into a period of common interests between art and science largely driven by the commonality of digital tools,” he added. “Artists are now just as involved in designing such tools as the scientific community and often create software and instrumentation in order to facilitate their creative visions that may ultimately be of even greater value to scientific research. I think that this was one of those instances and a couple of fortuitous events conspired to allow something interesting to happen.”