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A Wilder View: Noise pollution impacting wildlife

Posted at 10:26 AM, Jan 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-06 12:26:02-05

MISSOULA — Human populations continue to grow and we are continuing to see the impacts we have on our wild counterparts.

New research shows the noise we make is dangerous for animals. The World Health Organization previously described manmade noise as one of the most hazardous forms of pollution.

Researchers at Queen's University Belfast did the first comprehensive analysis on the effect of human noise where they examined sounds from 31 different animal species. The researchers found man-made noise -- such as traffic -- forces wildlife to change the way they communicate.

Researchers say those signals are crucial for their survival as many species communicate by producing audible signals. The animals can be communicating information, choosing a mate, or warning others of potential threats.

So, if noise pollution reduces the ability to communicate this crucial information it can have an impact on their survival. While noise pollution prevents some animals from escaping predators it can also constrain others in their search to find prey.

Wildlife such as bats and owls rely on the sounds of their prey. Noise pollution makes it more challenging to hear and locate their food, causing them to spend more time and energy in the search.

Overall, the researchers identified that noise pollution affects all of the groups of species examined and that the different groups did not differ in their response to noise.

Understanding the global effects of human-induced environmental changes such as noise is crucial because it allows directed conservation efforts. At the same time, these estimates provide a window into how species are susceptible to habitat changes due to human encroachment.

It’s important to note that this research measures whether there is an effect of noise, but it does not imply that all changes caused by human noise have to be biologically negative.