Noise Pollution is Just As Bad As Light Pollution For the Wildlife

Humanity makes a lot of noise. Vehicle noise, car horns, planes in the sky, ships that go around the oceans, household items such as blender, vacuum cleaner, “silent” electricity, and a lot more. According to a study published in Biology Letters, excess noise has some harmful health effects on humans.

For those of you who don’t know it yet, noise pollution is now widely recognized as a danger to human health. World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that it’s getting worse in much of the world and so far there has been a lack of regulation that limits other forms of pollution.

So we now know that noise pollution isn’t good for humans. This research also stated that man-made noise should be considered a “major global pollutant” for animals, too. The noise harms a wider range of animal life and we tend to overlook that.

Noise pollution is a big deal for animals, as a lot of research and studies have proved it. For instance, seals may be deafened by the underwater rumble of shipping traffic. Research has also shown that stressful noise levels seem to cut short the life expectancy of zebra finches.

It’s pretty bad, right? Well, a new study co-authored by Hansjoerg P. Kunc and Rouven Schmidt of Queen’s University Belfast has analyzed and combined data from multiple studies to take a broad look at how noise pollution impacts a variety of species.

a toad like the ones we usually find around urban areas. photo by Charles J Sharp Wikimedia Commons
a toad like the ones we usually find around urban areas. photo by Charles J Sharp Wikimedia Commons

The analysis covered 108 studies of both aquatic and on-land 109 species divided into seven groups: amphibians, anthropods, birds, mammals, fish, reptiles and molluscs. In this analysis, researchers looked at studies that measured changes in species’ behavior or others such as hormone levels, both before and after exposure to noise. The change was calculated on a scale and put together.

Surprise, surprise, researchers found that all seven groups, from tiny insects to large mammals were impacted by man-made noise. Kunc and Schmidt said that the majority of species have responses to noise, it’s not just a few species that are particularly sensitive to it. The reactions themselves are surprisingly similar.

“The study found clear evidence that noise pollution affects all of the seven groups of species, and that the different groups did not differ in their response to noise,” said Kunc, the lead author and a senior lecturer of biology and animal behavior at Queen’s University Belfast.

Researchers wrote that this study has led to a number of excellent experimental studies. But they also stated, “single studies cannot provide holistic quantitative assessments on the potential effects of noise across species.”

Now, this study doesn’t reveal whether noise affects animals positively or negatively, probably because the answer to that changes depending on the context. Traffic noise makes bats hunt less effectively because they rely on acoustic cues to find prey.

Even if noise pollution is mild or not happening continuously, it might still force them to spend more time and energy searching for food, which could be enough to trigger a decline. However, this becomes a bit of advantage to the ones which are hunted.

bats resting during the day. photo by Abijith k.a Wikimedia Commons
bats resting during the day. photo by Abijith k.a Wikimedia Commons

Even so, the researchers stress that noise pollution could still impact the survival of many species. Animals like amphibians, birds, insects and mammals all rely on sound to convey essential information, like mating, warning about predators, marking territories, and warning signals. If noise pollution drowns out enough of these messages, hindering their ability to reproduce or flee mortal danger, it can threaten survival and the stability of their population.

Moreover, fish larvae find their homes by following the sounds of coral reefs. This is how they find suitable habitats, but if their journey features too much noise from ships and other human sources, more fish larvae may get lost or move into subpar reefs, potentially reducing their lifespan.

And as we have already known, marine mammals like dolphins and whales are affected negatively as well. Owls, like bats, use acoustic signals to locate prey. If they keep having excess noise around them, those animals can’t hear properly.

Additionally, researchers found that some birds will completely avoid noisy areas during migration. They will go somewhere else quieter in order to raise their young. While it might not sound like a big deal, ecosystems and non-migrating species have come to depend on the arrival of migrating birds, and many others may be unprepared for their detours.

This could trigger a huge amount of ecological changes as well as reduce species richness, which is something that is vital to the health of the planet.

migrating birds in urban areas. photo by Suyash Dwivedi Wikimedia Commons
migrating birds in urban areas. photo by Suyash Dwivedi Wikimedia Commons

Researchers claim that this study provides “the first comprehensive quantitative empirical evidence that noise affects many aquatic and terrestrial species.” If we look at the bright side, we know that this information or evidence can help conservation efforts. It helps us learn how evolutionary ecology makes species more or less susceptible to noisy humans.

Indeed, when we see it from conservation standpoint, this evidence is crucial because, as the researchers stated, “it shows that noise affects not only a few species that we need to pay attention to but many species that inhabit very different ecosystems.”

In the end, Kunc said, “This large-scale quantitative study provides significant evidence that noise pollution must be considered as a serious form of man-made environmental change and pollution, illustrating how it affects so many aquatic and terrestrial species. Noise must be considered as a global pollutant and we need to develop strategies to protect animals from noise for their livelihoods.”

Even though noise pollution is considered a major global pollutant for animals and it sounds like something that we can’t control, there’s still hope. Because unlike air pollution and chemical pollution which are on the difficult side of problem solving, the one thing humanity can do to help conserve the wildlife is stop making noise. Indeed, it’s not that easy as well, but it’s the least we can do so that the wildlife continues to thrive.

What do you think we should do to reduce noise pollution? Do you think there are other type of pollution which are more serious than this one? Tell us in the comments below.



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