Scientists Find Noise Pollution Affects Both Animal and Plant Life

Scientists have found cases in which noise pollution can cause plants to thrive and suffer

One would expect noise pollution to affect behavior of animal life -- after all, critters have ears too, and the sound booming from a factory or oil well doesn't discriminate. But according to an article at, the cacophony of modern industrial life can influence the quality and quantity of life for flora as well as fauna.

In an ecosystem, everything is interconnected -- a change in the behavioral patterns of one animal will affect those of the animals that prey upon it as well as the animals and plants it eats. Citing an article in the March 21 issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B ("Noise pollution alters ecological services: enhanced pollination and disrupted seed dispersal" -- here's the abstract), describes two situations in which noise pollution from natural gas wells in New Mexico had very different influence over the animal and plant behavior.

Certain flowers near the noisy site benefited from the noise pollution -- turns out that the black-chinned hummingbirds that pollinate the scarlet gilia prefer noise because it drives off the hummingbirds' natural predator, the western scrub jay. So in this indirect way, the natural gas well aids in pollination. For pinon pines, though, the story was quite different. The same western scrub jay helps to broadcast the pine seeds, so the noise in effect prevents the trees from propagating. Instead, at a noisy site, the seeds are more likely to be eaten by mice.

These observable behavioral patterns may be only the beginning of a much longer story -- trees, for instance, live a very long time. As researcher Clinton Francis told, "The problem is that the full effects of noise exposure may not be felt by the ecosystem for many decades, perhaps even long after gas wells are gone."