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Experts in ecology and physiology are collaborating to understanding how light and noise pollution affects wildlife. These researchers from around the world, including Utah State University, University of Glasgow and VU Amsterdam University are defining “sensory danger zones,” or areas where sensory pollutants influences animal activity. Their work was published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Mitigating Effects of Light and Noise Pollution

By learning what harmful effects sensory pollution such as light pollution and traffic noise have on animal activity, better ways to mitigate these effects can be developed. This effort is important when it comes to species that may be endangered. Also, better ways can be developed to manage urban wildlife, mitigating wildlife-vehicle collisions, or preventing agricultural damage, said the researchers.

9/11 Tribute Attracts 15,000 Birds Each Night

One example the researchers gave is the annual 9/11 memorial tribute in New York City. The 44 spotlights in the tribute attracts up to 15,000 birds in one night. This light pollution interferes with the birds’ navigation since they use the starry night sky to fly. The end effect is that the birds will fly in circles into the morning and many die of exhaustion. They can also collide with artificially lit structures.

One way light pollution affects animals like birds and insects is by mimicking the night sky. This causes confusion when the animals try to find direction. Traffic noise, for example, can mask the audio spectral frequency of bird song. Another example given by the researchers is that of a cougar being distracted while it is hunting because of the headlights or road noise from cars.

A Global Effect

Light and noise pollution can affect wildlife anywhere. Finding ways to prevent these harmful effects can have impact globally to benefit all affected wildlife.

“Night lighting and anthropogenic sound are not localized to certain habitats and certain countries. It’s a global phenomenon,” said co-lead author Davide Dominoni.

“Clarifying these mechanisms can help develop solutions to biodiversity loss and anthropogenic impacts worldwide.”

Golf course in the Ogden, Utah area with wildlife warnings posted. Outdoor lighting can influence animal movement, behavior, and habitat use - especially along the urban-wildland interface. (Photo: David Stoner/Utah State University)
Golf course in the Ogden, Utah area with wildlife warnings posted. Outdoor lighting can influence animal movement, behavior, and habitat use — especially along the urban-wildland interface. (Photo: David Stoner/Utah State University)
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