Urban Noise Pollution Is Disrupting Birds’ and Insects’ Ability to Learn, Mate: Study
Noise pollution by humans is interfering with the ability of birds and insects to mate, communicate, and forage for food — two new studies have found.
Published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B Wednesday, the first study demonstrated the effect of traffic noise on the cognitive function of birds in urban settings. The researchers found that when exposed to traffic noise, zebra finches took twice their usual amount of time to forage or to pick up new skills. The study concluded that human-made noise reduced the birds’ cognitive ability, inhibiting impulse control, motor skills, spatial memory, and social learning.
The second study, published in Oxford’s Behavioral Ecology also Wednesday, studied the impact of human-generated noise on insects’ mating behaviors. Focusing on a species of Mediterranean field crickets, the researchers noted that traffic noise interfered with the ability of females to distinguish between the quality of the courtship songs performed by males of the species — leading to long-term effects on their sexual selection process, which drives the process of evolution itself. The finding is especially alarming at a juncture when the Earth is losing 1-2% of its insect populations annually.
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“We weren’t really sure that we would see such a strong effect,” Christopher Templeton, from the department of biology at Pacific University in the U.S., who studies evolutionary and ecological implications of animal behavior and co-authored the Royal Society study, told The Guardian. He noted being “pretty surpris[ed]” at the wide-ranging effects of “just the simple act of hearing cars drive,” on the animal kingdom.
Noise pollution by humans, affects humans, too. Past research has shown that high levels of chronic noise exposure prompted inflammation of blood vessels, increasing individuals’ chances of experiencing serious cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and strokes.
Amid the current global biodiversity crisis, the findings of these studies reiterate the need to address the impact of human activities on the ecosystem in order to prevent it from deteriorating further. “Together, this disruption from noise pollution would likely have a pretty significant effect on the ability of animals to learn about the world around them. … This has significant implications for how well they can get along in life,” Templeton says.