The costs of chronic noise exposure for terrestrial organisms

A recent technical paper[1] reviews findings from a number of research studies of the effects of chronic noise exposure for terrestrial organisms. Drawing from fully one hundred references, the findings describe noise effects on every organism studied.

Chronic noise exposure is widespread. Taken individually, many of the papers cited here offer suggestive but inconclusive evidence that masking is substantially altering many ecosystems. Taken collectively, the preponderance of evidence argues for immediate action to manage noise in protected natural areas. …

It is clear that the acoustical environment is not a collection of private conversations between signaler and receiver but an interconnected landscape of information networks and adventitious sounds; a landscape that we see as more connected with each year of investigation. It is for these reasons that the masking imposed by anthropogenic noise could have volatile and unpredictable consequences. …

The costs of noise must be understood in relation to other anthropogenic forces, to ensure effective mitigation and efficient realization of environmental goals. Noise pollution exacerbates the problems posed by habitat fragmentation and wildlife responses to human presence; therefore, highly fragmented or heavily visited locations are priority candidates for noise management. Noise management might also offer a relatively rapid tool to improve the resilience of protected lands to some of the stresses imposed by climate change. Shuttle buses and other specialized mass transit systems, such as those used at Zion and Denali National Parks, offer promising alternatives for visitor access that enable resource managers to exert better control over the timing, spatial distribution, and intensity of both noise and human disturbance. Quieting protected areas is a prudent precaution in the face of sweeping environmental changes, and a powerful affirmation of the wilderness values that inspired their creation.

1. Jesse R. Barber, Kevin R. Crooks, and Kurt M. Fristrup. “The Costs of Chronic Noise Exposure for Terrestrial Organisms” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25.3 (2010): 180-189.