How Our Noise Affects Animals
Noise pollution is a serious issue in many animal communities. Prevalent nuisances include loud PA systems, speakers and subwoofers, and traffic noise. Increasingly, studies are showing how ecosystems are adapting to human noise – with species relocating or changing their behaviors to avoid the changing environment. Noise pollution is spawned by development, transportation, and industry, and has unintended consequences on the inhabitants of these environments. Some of the animals most affected are birds, bats, and aquatic life, but many other animals are also affected. Also of note is how difficult it is to measure noise pollution; sound waves must be captured by microphone/recording devices, and researchers at Colorado State University studied hundreds of recordings and used geospatial analysis to determine how much human noise is polluting protected wildlife areas such as Rocky Mountain National Park. In national parks and wildlife refuges, part of protected lands, scientists have estimated that human noise is ten times louder than the natural background noise, suggesting a permanent trend towards noisier environments.
Birds are some of the most widely studied animals related to noise pollution. It has been found that some birds like jays will not nest in noisy areas, preferring to move further into wooded areas where there is reduced noise. Consequently, this means that other species like hummingbirds move into the environment previously occupied by the jays, representing a change in the ecosystem. It’s also been observed that the mating and echo calls by finches are changed when noise pollution is present – they now call at night when it is quieter where previously they called during the day. Alternatively, some birds, such as songbirds have changed the character of their call – making it higher pitched so it can be heard easier above the noise. For bats, it has been found that their proximity to traffic noise has reduced their effectiveness to find food. Since bats are echo-locators, human noise, which can be disorienting, has a profound effect on their ability to locate prey.
Marine animals have been changing their behaviors as well – whales and dolphins have had to alter their lifestyles to avoid noises from ships, oil rigs, and sonar technology. Whales specifically have been shown to become more stressed around ship noise, which may contribute to erratic behavior or movement patterns, while dolphins have also had to change their calls in direct response to the noise pollution. Studies have attributed a recent beaching problem for whales to this increased noise, as it sends them further from their homes, using more energy than normal. Other animals like frogs and prairie dogs also have reduced ability when noise is present – their calls and ability to forage are diminished when they are distracted by loud noises. Since there are very few places that noise pollution doesn’t exist, there are probably further implications not yet realized to animal populations, not to mention the impact noise has on human well-being. Reducing noise is important to keeping a vibrant and diverse ecosystem, and being conscious of these nuisances will help us make better decisions that affect the lives of these animals.
Whether traveling to a local state park or a wildlife protected area, you will find noise pollution more prevalent than ever. Calling upon local representatives to regulate noise is one of the most effective way to create change. Building barriers and other noise-blockers near trains and other industry can be ay solution to help curb noise pollution if the community and representatives buy in. We can make adjustments in our lives that help animals – maintaining vehicles and avoiding loud mufflers and other additional equipment on cars can lessen the impact automobiles have on our surroundings. Strategically planting trees, though it takes time, can impact animals ecosystems and greatly reduce human made noise. Thinking about animals when new industries or development is being considered in your community can help decision makers through the process. Building materials, insulation, and acoustic paneling can all be adapted to buildings, which helps reduce their outward noise pollution. There are more elements to consider, but here is a great place to start in your own community.
Sources: Science.org.au, Seeker.com, The Conversation, Us.Whales.org, Noisy Planet, Science Daily, Wildlife.org, Nautil.Us, NRDC.org, Smithsonian Magazine, Care2, IFL Science, The Guardian, PBS, Phys.org, Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, Help Save Nature