New research from Queen’s University Belfast has indicated that noise pollution is threatening to over 100 different species.
The researchers found that noise affects the behaviour of a wide range of species including amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptilians. Noise pollution can affect species by interfering with their communication, which is important for picking a mate or warning for predator; this disruption may lead to lower survival rates.
Furthermore, noise pollution may disturb the balance of ecosystems, by changing the dynamics between prey and predators. For example, bats and owls rely on the sounds of the potential prey, and noise pollution makes it more challenging to hear and find their prey, forcing them to invest more time in sourcing food, which could lead to a decline in these species.
In the aquatic world, fish larvae find their home based on the sound emitted by reefs. Increased noise pollution in the sea, mainly as a result of ships, makes it more difficult for fish larvae to find suitable reefs, leading many to choose less suitable reefs, which may reduce their lifespan.
Noise pollution also has a huge impact on the natural migration of animals. Many birds will avoid noise polluted areas during migration which in turn affects where birds choose to live. These changes in distribution of species can in turn affect ecosystem health as each species forms an integral part in maintaining the functioning of a specific ecosystem.
The World Health Organisation has previously said noise is one of the most hazardous forms of pollution for people, but this new meta-study found that it has huge effects on the biology and physiology of amphibians, arthropods, birds, fish, mammals, molluscs, and reptiles. Indeed, all organisms studied, terrestrial and aquatic, were found to be affected, indicating that noise pollution affecting animals is the norm, not the exception. Previous studies have suggested that certain species are affected by noise pollution, but this meta-study is the first of its kind to provide quantitative evidence on a widespread of species to encourage institutions to regulate noise pollution.
The study analysed the effects of noise in over one hundred species, which were divided into seven groups: amphibians, arthropods, birds, fish, mammals, molluscs and reptiles.
Dr Hansjoerg Kunc, from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast and lead author, concluded: “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.”
The study has not evaluated the exact effects in terms of beneficial and detrimental effects for different species, but it seems clear that noise pollution can affect ecosystems in complex ways. Indeed, to combat noise pollution, there should be further research, and cooperation with governments and policy makers. A previous case similar to the one of noise pollution, was when light pollution was found to harm nocturnal wildlife, and local councils in UK started to implement policies to combat this.