Noise May Affect Plants and Trees
BBC Nature News featured a study published by the Proceedings of the Royal Society (Biological Sciences) on manmade noise and how it may affect not only animals but plants as well. The study shows that noise pollution (such as industrial noises) change seed-dispersing birds and animals’ behavior, which in turn affect the dispersal, distribution, and growth of trees and plants.
The study was conducted by a US team headed by Clinton Francis from NESCent (National Evolutionary Synthesis Center) in North Carolina. The researchers observed birds, animals, and plants in Rattlesnake Canyon Habitat Management Area in New Mexico, where the effects of industrial noise may be observed without confounding factors such as artificial light.
The study consisted of two experiments observing how noise changes behavior of certain species of hummingbirds in the area and how trees are affected by this change in terms of pollination and seed dispersal. The study’s results give us an idea of how human altered landscapes might have changed in the past years and decades, when effects of noise pollution on the environment remained largely unnoticed.
The team’s first experiment revealed that certain species of hummingbirds actually increased feeding visits to test sites with noise pollution. They think that this might be due to the fact that other birds that prey on the hummingbirds avoid the area because of the noise. The second experiment focused on how noise pollution affects the dispersal of pinon pine (Pinus Edulis) tree seeds by changing behavior of the birds and animals which take them. The researchers spread pinon pine seeds in both quiet and noisy areas. They observed that small animals including mice, squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks came and took the seeds. The mice especially seemed to prefer noisy test sites. However some birds, particularly western scrub jays, avoided noisy sites entirely. This change in behavior might affect the pinon pine’s seed dispersal negatively. The researchers explained that pinon pine seeds eaten by mice do not survive and germinate unlike those taken by the jays, which they hide in the soil for future use. More seeds taken by the birds will germinate and grow than those eaten by the mice. If the birds don’t take the scattered seeds it will be most likely be eaten by mice, which eventually leads to decreased pinon pine trees in the future. Moreover, pinon pine trees are slow growing trees and researchers think that the effects of noise pollution on the trees have gone unnoticed over the years.
Pinon pine trees are considered critical habitats for hundreds of animal and bird species and decrease in their growth and numbers means those species have to compete for limited habitats. The same could be said for other species of plants and trees which rely on birds and animals for seed dispersal. The researchers who conducted the study conclude that growing noise pollution should be evaluated alongside other environmental changes caused by humans.
Noise pollution has already been known to disrupt the behavior and communication patterns of acoustic-dependent animals and mammals, even in the ocean. Noise interferes with bats’ ability to use echolocation for hunting, and underwater noise cause acoustic damage, internal hemorrhage, and even death in marine mammals.
The ecological consequences of noise pollution need to be addressed as we start to learn more about how they affect and change our environment.
Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Alan Vernon on Flickr.
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