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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Noise effects on avian population and nesting success

I ran across an interesting little article in one of our local community magazines (the Highlander, Oct. 2010) describing the work of Clint Francis. He has performed some studies on the effects of industrial-type noise in avian nesting areas; his work was performed in Rattlesnake Canyon Wildlife Area in New Mexico, but is relevant because of the network issues that it reveals.

Tracking back from the article (which is somewhat detail-free), I was able to come across the paper written by Francis and others about the study. It is available at this link. This discusses the effects of natural gas wells (with noisy compressors) on the nesting habits, nesting success and avian diversity in the areas affected by the wells.

While previous studies have suggested that bird populations were harmed by noisy environments, these had mostly been focused on high-traffic areas with insufficient control mechanisms to prove that the noise was the issue. By using gas wells in remote areas, Francis was able to isolate the wells as the fundamental issue. He also got assistance from the owner of the wells in turning off the compressors for tracking of the birds, but the interruptions were slight, and he used a significant number of controls to make sure the study was sound.

Basically, the noise of the compressor was handled by some species of birds (especially those that were urban-adapted), allowing them to nest properly within the noise sphere of the compressor. However, the main predator of the area, the western scrub-jay, was unable to handle the sound of the device, and therefore never went within the noise range. This allowed the noise-accepting birds to nest without predation.

Of course, there is a negative aspect to this: it privileges the birds that are adapted to noise, and puts undo stress on species that cannot coexist with the noise. These species are overly subjected to predation, and therefore species diversity is reduced.

Interesting stuff. There is an obvious opportunity for sonification of something like this (maybe with location sensing arduinos or something). More on this to come, I'm sure...


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