Noise Pollution Filters Bird Communities Based on Vocal Frequency
by Clinton D. Francis, Catherine P. Ortega, Alexander Cruz
Human-generated noise pollution now permeates natural habitats worldwide, presenting evolutionarily novel acoustic conditions unprecedented to most landscapes. These acoustics not only harm humans, but threaten wildlife, and especially birds, via changes to species densities, foraging behavior, reproductive success, and predator-prey interactions. Explanations for negative effects of noise on birds include disruption of acoustic communication through energetic masking, potentially forcing species that rely upon acoustic communication to abandon otherwise suitable areas. However, this hypothesis has not been adequately tested because confounding stimuli often co-vary with noise and are difficult to separate from noise exposure.
Using a natural experiment that controls for confounding stimuli, we evaluate whether species vocal features or urban-tolerance classifications explain their responses to noise measured through habitat use. Two data sets representing nesting and abundance responses reveal that noise filters bird communities nonrandomly. Signal duration and urban tolerance failed to explain species-specific responses, but birds with low-frequency signals that are more susceptible to masking from noise avoided noisy areas and birds with higher frequency vocalizations remained. Signal frequency was also negatively correlated with body mass, suggesting that larger birds may be more sensitive to noise due to the link between body size and vocal frequency.
Our findings suggest that acoustic masking by noise may be a strong selective force shaping the ecology of birds worldwide. Larger birds with lower frequency signals may be excluded from noisy areas, whereas smaller species persist via transmission of higher frequency signals. We discuss our findings as they relate to interspecific relationships among body size, vocal amplitude and frequency and suggest that they are immediately relevant to the global problem of increases in noise by providing critical insight as to which species traits influence tolerance of these novel acoustics.
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Syndicated from:PLoS ONE
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