A growing body of research shows that birds and other animals change their behavior in response to human noise, such as the din of traffic or the hum of machinery.
But human clamor doesn't just affect animals.
Because many animals also pollinate plants or eat or disperse their seeds, human noise can have ripple effects on plants, too, finds a new study reported in the March 21, 2012, issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
In cases where noise has ripple effects on long-lived plants like trees, the consequences could last for decades, even after the source of the noise goes away, says lead author Clinton Francis of the National Science Foundation (NSF) National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina.
In previous studies, Francis and colleagues found that some animals increase in numbers near noisy sites, while others decline.
But could animals' different responses to human noise have indirect effects on plants, too?
To find out, the researchers conducted a series of experiments from 2007 to 2010 in the Bureau of Land Management's Rattlesnake Canyon Wildlife Area in northwestern New Mexico.
The region is home to thousands of natural gas wells, many of which are coupled with noisy compressors for extracting the gas and transporting it through pipelines.
The compressors roar and rumble day and night, every day of the year.
The advantage of working in natural gas sites is they allow scientists to study noise and its effects on wildlife without the confounding factors in noisy areas like roadways or cities, such as pollution from artificial light and chemicals, or collisions with cars.
As part of their research, Francis and colleagues first conducted an experiment using patches of artificial plants designed to mimic a common red wildflower in the area called scarlet gilia.
Each patch consisted of five artificial plants with thr
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation