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Birds exposed to the persistent noise of natural gas compressors show symptoms remarkably similar to those in humans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, new research shows.
In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that adults and nestlings of three species showed multiple signs of chronic stress caused by noise pollution, including skewed stress hormone levels, possibly due to increased anxiety, distraction and hypervigilance.
Study - Relationships - Noise - Stress - Hormones
The study is the first to test the relationships between noise, stress hormones and fitness in animals that breed in natural areas with unrelenting, human-made noise.
Constant noise could be acting as an "acoustic blanket," muffling the audio cues birds rely on to detect predators, competitors and their own species, said study co-author Rob Guralnick, associate curator of biodiversity informatics at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Unable to discern whether their environment is safe, mother birds must choose between staying on guard at the nest and finding food for their young.
Nestlings - Environments - Body - Sizes - Feather
Nestlings in the noisiest environments had smaller body sizes and reduced feather development, potentially diminishing their odds of survival. Hatching rates in western bluebirds - the most noise-tolerant species studied - dropped in response to noise.
"These birds can't escape this noise. It's persistent, and it completely screws up their ability to get cues from the environment," Guralnick said. "They're perpetually stressed because they can't figure out what's going on. Just as constant stress tends to degrade many aspects of a person's health, this ultimately has a whole cascade of effects on their physiological health and fitness."
Research - Team - Nathan - Kleist - Student
A research team led by Nathan Kleist, then a doctoral student at the University of Colorado Boulder, set up 240 nesting boxes staggered at precise distances from gas compressors. This allowed the researchers to examine stress responses of nesting birds across a measurable gradient...
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