Scientists say rules on noise pollution, including aircraft noise, should be tightened to protect wildlife



Noise pollution rules should be tightened to protect wildlife, say scientists

Researchers examined more than 100 studies on the impact of human-produced noise

Noise produced by human activities should be better regulated to protect wildlife, say the authors of a study exposing how sound pollution affects myriad creatures from fish to birds.

“For example in bats, they try to locate their prey via acoustic cues,” said Dr Hansjoerg Kunc, the co-author of the research from Queen’s University Belfast. “If you have the noise in the background they can’t really hear that, so they have to fly longer and invest more time and energy to find their food.”

Writing in the journal Biology Letters, researchers examined more than 100 studies on the effect of noise on a large variety of animals, from molluscs to mammals.

The studies were based on experiments in which different aspects of the animals’ behaviour or other measures, such as changes in hormone levels, were recorded before and after exposure to noise. The size of any shift from pre-noise behaviour was then calculated on a scale. The latest research took all of these calculations and put them together for six groups of animals, including fish and birds.

The results reveal that human-produced noise affects all six groups of animals considered, encompassing a wide range of species. While some studies showed greater effects than others, analysis carried out by Kunc and his team found this is not down to genetic closeness or the type of species.

“Thus, the significant response to noise can be explained by most species responding to noise rather than a few species being particularly sensitive to noise,” the authors wrote. They added that noise was important from a conservation point of view because it meant efforts to reduce the impact must take into account a host of species within different ecosystems.

Kunc said noise “can change the species composition of an area, and then of course lose the function of an ecosystem.”

The team said it was highly probable that studies have underestimated the impact of noise, but cautioned that their research did not examine whether the effects were beneficial or detrimental to species. Such considerations, they added, were complex – for example, noise that disrupts hunting could benefit prey while creating difficulties for predators.

Even where some animals benefitted, that did not mean noise should not be tackled, since the majority would experience negative effects and it could cause disruption of ecosystems, said Kunc.

Andy Radford, a professor of behavioural ecology at the University of Bristol who was not involved in the study, said particular species or populations might face different impacts – while some may be able to move away from the noise, for example, others may not, while animals might tolerate stress better than others. What’s more, even plants can be affected – for example if pollinators move away because of noise.

However, Radford said there was cause for optimism. “Unlike with, for example, chemical pollution, if a noise source moves away or is switched off, then nothing lingers in the environment itself,” he said.



Anthropogenic noise has become a major global pollutant and studies have shown that noise can affect animals. However, such single studies cannot provide holistic quantitative assessments on the potential effects of noise across species. Using a multi-level phylogenetically controlled meta-analysis, we provide the first holistic quantitative analysis on the effects of anthropogenic noise. We found that noise affects many species of amphibians, arthropods, birds, fish mammals, molluscs and reptilians. Interestingly, phylogeny contributes only little to the variation in response to noise. Thus, the effects of anthropogenic noise can be explained by the majority of species responding to noise rather than a few species being particularly sensitive to noise. Consequently, anthropogenic noise must be considered as a serious form of environmental change and pollution as it affects both aquatic and terrestrial species. Our analyses provide the quantitative evidence necessary for legislative bodies to regulate this environmental stressor more effectively.


See also

Twitter storm: noise pollution creates havoc for birds, study shows

Human activities could be affecting reproduction and even normal social behaviour

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent (Guardian)

Thu 20 Jun 2019


The Effects of Noise on Biodiversity (NO0235)

Final Report for Defra


By the University of Bristol

Part of the Exec Summary says: 

The major finding is that a strong evidence base does not exist regarding the potential impact of anthropogenic noise on non-marine UK PS and SPI. Definite conclusions could be made only about the reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus), which exhibits shifts in song frequency in response to road traffic noise. It is also likely that foraging in brown long-eared bats (Plecotus auritus), singing in European robins (Erithacus rubecula), house sparrows (Passer domesticus), starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), and the behaviour of common toads (Bufo bufo) are affected by road traffic noise to some degree. Common issues preventing strong conclusions for other species include a lack of sufficient controls to rule out potential confounding factors (e.g. changes in the behaviour of animals near roads may be the consequence of differences in lighting, disturbance or habitat differences, rather than noise) and the use of acoustic measurements that are more relevant to humans than the auditory capabilities of the study species. In addition, hardly any studies directly considered how anthropogenic noise might impact individual fitness; while several more studies provided good proxies for fitness, definite conclusions in this regard would also be premature.

To make a fair assessment of how much anthropogenic noise affects non-marine wildlife in general, and UK PS and SPI in particular, will therefore require further empirical work. Such work should ideally address the current taxonomic bias towards studies on birds, include carefully designed experimental studies (while bearing in mind that such research on species of conservation priority raises some ethical issues), quantify the noise sources of relevance in a way that relates to the hearing capabilities of the study organism, look beyond short-term studies to consider chronic and repeated exposure, focus on response indicators that can inform models of population viability, and investigate impacts at community and ecosystem levels as well as how individuals are affected.


Loud aeroplane noise found to cause aggression in birds

Birds living near airports are more likely to be aggressive and suffer from hearing impairments, a new study has found.

August 27th, 2019



Norbert Kempf and Ommo Hüppop,

Institute for Ornithological Research, Helgoland Ornithological Station

Date? Before 2000?