Humans are great (well, that’s debatable) but we’re also super noisy. Think about all of the noise we make with our vehicles, machines, various types of entertainment devices, and even our voices and you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that humans as a species are one of the noisiest around. We’re so noisy, in fact, that other animals tend to avoid us. Cities often push many species away just by gobbling up their habitat but beyond that our incredible noise can make other types of animals like birds search for homes elsewhere.
Scientists have been telling us about the effects of our noise on animal life for some time, but new research is beginning to point to another side effect that many people might not even consider. Since animal groups like birds are some of nature’s most prolific seed-spreaders, it’s looking increasingly likely that humans are actually preventing the regrowth and spread of various plant species simply because we’re making the animals that plant those seeds head for the hills.More from BGR
In the study, which was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers observed a large area of New Mexico known as Rattlesnake Canyon, which is currently under natural resource management. The region has a lot of natural gas wells, and as Guardian reports, these facilities are extremely loud. The round-the-clock ruckus is up to 100 decibels, which would be enough to cause hearing damage in humans with extended exposure. But if the noise is painful for us, it’s perhaps even worse for wildlife that often sees loud sounds as a threat.
The study covered a whopping 115 acres and multiple wells with noisy compressors. Observations of the number of trees of various ages as well as animal activity, specifically birds, began in 2007. At the time it was thought that the noise around the wells with compressors was pushing some animal life away, including birds that spread seeds, while other species were doing just fine. Hummingbirds, for instance, didn’t mind the noise, and that led to an increase in flowering plants due to their pollinating efforts.
Over a decade later, scientists once again revisited these areas to compare how things changed over time. What they found was that some wells had removed their compressors while others that were previously quiet had installed them, turning each individual area on its head. In regions that had been noisy but had since quieted down, some trees had made a comeback with fresh seedlings, but some specific species of plants didn’t bounce back as well as others.
It’s believed that the bird species that feed on the various seeds — in the case of the pinyon pine, the California scrub jay is a big seed-spreader — had not returned to the areas for one reason or another. It’s likely, the researchers say, that the jays had associated these areas with loud or even painful noise and even though the areas were now quiet, the birds refused to return.
It’s disheartening to imagine that, because humans are so noisy, we might change entire ecosystems without even realizing it, but that appears to be not just plausible, but likely.
My very first job was raking leaves in the fall. It was a good way to make a little money without leaving the neighborhood. The weather was cool, the leaves were trippy colors, and people were out and about before the coming semi-hibernation of winter. It was a beautiful season of red, orange and yellow, quiet but for the sound of kids jumping into huge piles of leaves.
Now, the simple and efficient rake has been replaced by the daily intrusion of loud and polluting gas-powered leaf blowers designed to blast away any leaf that dares land on a lawn. The mind-rattling racket of these machines has made being outside, working and going to school remotely, listening to someone or something, even thinking, nearly impossible. about:blankhttps://c5x8i7c7.ssl.hwcdn.net/vplayer-parallel/20210209_0916/videojs/show.html?controls=1&loop=30&autoplay=0&tracker=83863571-8b84-4d58-a827-64f927c39254&height=300&width=533&vurl=%2F%2Fa.jsrdn.com%2Fvideos%2Fdgv_dallasnews%2F20210301053120_603c7a292e165%2Fdgv_dallasnews_trending_articles_20210301053120_603c7a292e165_new.mp4&poster=%2F%2Fa.jsrdn.com%2Fvideos%2Fdgv_dallasnews%2F20210301053120_603c7a292e165%2Fdgv_dallasnews_trending_articles_20210301053120_603c7a292e165_new.jpgXFeatured on Dallas News
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Operating a gas-powered leaf blower for one hour emits smog-forming pollution comparable to driving a 2017 Toyota Camry about 1,100 miles, or approximately the distance from Chicago to Houston. Particulate matter linked to cancers, heart disease, asthma and other serious ailments, lingers in the air for days in droplets so small that the body has no way to filter them from entering the lungs. Most affected are children, the elderly and, of course, the operators of these machines.
A leaf blower is frequently the soundtrack for my day, too often the first sound I hear in the morning. The noise from these contraptions can be overwhelming. It is their unique combination of sound waves from the engine and the 200 mph blast of air it generates, that makes them so intolerable. The low-frequency waves travel farthest and produce the worst health effects, but the high-frequency waves (think dentist drill) add a grating intrusion. Unlike eyes, ears can’t shut. Studies show that noise pollution heightens stress, disrupts sleep, leads to hypertension and impairs learning.https://2c2359a808bfe6b0e9a6386ad15cacb1.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
There is no waste in nature, and leaves aren’t litter. When autumn leaves fall, many species of butterflies, bees, fireflies, moths, ladybugs and earthworms find their winter home. The Luna moth is one of the most beautiful wild creatures that still exists close to our homes. Wrapping their cocoons in leaves provides excellent camouflage and insulation from cold temperatures. The cocoons are bright lime green and as large as four and a half inches long, and finding one is always a delight. But weekly blowing of leaf cover has substantially destroyed Luna moth habitat as well as that for fireflies and many other species. When we treat leaves like trash, we’re tossing out something other species need to survive.
Maintaining clean air and water, addressing the looming climate crisis, and protecting other species as well as ourselves should start at the neighborhood level. If we don’t encourage community responses to threats to our health and well-being, what hope do we have to take on bigger problems? We have to ask, is there value in the environment we live in, or has a leafless lawn become the new standard of our values?SPONSORED CONTENT
There are around 40 million acres of lawn in the continental United States, making turf grass the single largest “crop” we grow. Let’s move on from lawns styled with a 1950s-era crewcut to more of a Beatles-style shag, using native plants that don’t require being groomed into a flat-top. Let’s leave the leaves alone once in a while.
I’ve started to hand out a Golden Rake Award, a miniature gold rake and gift card to folks I see raking leaves, to thank them for helping to keep the neighborhood a little quieter and the air a little cleaner. We each chose the issues — from the global to the personal — that we most care about. Common to all of them is the need for sanctuary in our lives, on our streets and in our homes. If given the choice, wouldn’t we all rather live in a clean, quiet neighborhood than a loud, dirty one with fewer leaves?https://2c2359a808bfe6b0e9a6386ad15cacb1.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
Nature is not someplace to visit, it’s all around us. Even the most urbanized places are home to countless populations of wild birds, butterflies, flowers and other species. Our surroundings have much to offer in an increasingly complicated and electronic world. Nature provides us a place to think, create and de-stress. Spending time outside is rejuvenating and important to our well-being, but the persistent noise of gas-powered blowers makes it tough to enjoy the simple act of being outside, and it’s loud enough to disrupt your day, even inside your own home, a place that has become more essential than ever.
Sanctuary is being lost to the sanctity of a well-groomed lawn. With a million new gas-powered blowers sold each year, and manufacturers pushing the year-round use of leaf blowers for a variety of purposes, including to dry off pavement, it’s only getting worse. We’re not only losing peace and quiet and the quality of our air, we’re losing a whole season.
It’s time to hit the reset button and take back autumn. Buy someone a rake for Christmas, and get out in the crisp clean air and jump in the leaves.
Peter Bahouth is the former executive director of Greenpeace USA, the Turner Family Foundation and the U.S. Climate Action Network. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
A growing body of research shows that noise pollution can have a major impact on non-human animals, BBC News reported. A study published in September 2020 found that the relative quiet of lockdown enabled male white-crowned sparrows in San Francisco to sing a higher quality song that was more attractive to females. Under the sea, shipping noises have been shown to stop humpback whales from singing. However, Wednesday’s study was the first to show how noise pollution harms cognitive ability in animals, its authors told AFP.
To achieve their results, the researchers gave zebra finches a series of tasks that mimic the process of searching for food, BBC News explained. These included finding food beneath flipping lids designed to resemble leaves or figuring out how to access food in a cylinder. The researchers had the birds attempt the tasks without noise and also while a recording of traffic sounds played in the background. (The level of noise resembled road noise in a semi-rural area, AFP explained.)
They found that the background noise had a big impact on the birds’ ability to complete the tasks.
“In some cases, we observed that it took animals more than twice as long to learn new skills when they heard road traffic played at natural sounds levels,” Templeton told i. “For example, learning to remember the location of a hidden food reward took control birds about nine trials, but those exposed to traffic noise took on average 18 trials to learn the same task.”
“This has significant implications for how well they can get along in life,” Templeton told AFP.
The zebra finch study was not the only research published this week that highlighted the dangers of road noise for wildlife. Another study published in Behavioral Ecology found that traffic noise impacted the mating success of the two-spotted cricket. Male crickets in this species sing by rubbing their wings together, and female crickets choose a mate based on the quality of their song. The researchers found that traffic and white noise lowered the crickets’ mating success rate from 90 to 70 percent.
“Mate choice decisions can have strong implications on the success and viability of offspring,” study lead author and University of Cambridge zoologist Adam Bent told AFP. “This could disrupt the evolution of this species.”
Bent said there was not much research on the impact of noise on insects. His study adds more evidence that the sounds we make cause disruption across the animal kingdom.
“It’s quite sad,” Templeton told BBC News. “It’s getting really, really difficult to find totally quiet environments not touched by human noise.”
However, he said there were solutions, especially to the problem of traffic sounds.