Noise pollution alters ecological services: enhanced pollination and disrupted seed dispersal

Clinton D. Francis, Nathan J. Kleist, Catherine P. Ortega, Alexander Cruz

Abstract

Noise pollution is a novel, widespread environmental force that has recently been shown to alter the behaviour and distribution of birds and other vertebrates, yet whether noise has cumulative, community-level consequences by changing critical ecological services is unknown. Herein, we examined the effects of noise pollution on pollination and seed dispersal and seedling establishment within a study system that isolated the effects of noise from confounding stimuli common to human-altered landscapes. Using observations, vegetation surveys and pollen transfer and seed removal experiments, we found that effects of noise pollution can reverberate through communities by disrupting or enhancing these ecological services. Specifically, noise pollution indirectly increased artificial flower pollination by hummingbirds, but altered the community of animals that prey upon and disperse Pinus edulis seeds, potentially explaining reduced P. edulis seedling recruitment in noisy areas. Despite evidence that some ecological services, such as pollination, may benefit indirectly owing to noise, declines in seedling recruitment for key-dominant species such as P. edulis may have dramatic long-term effects on ecosystem structure and diversity. Because the extent of noise pollution is growing, this study emphasizes that investigators should evaluate the ecological consequences of noise alongside other human-induced environmental changes that are reshaping human-altered landscapes worldwide.

  • Received January 31, 2012.
  • Accepted February 28, 2012.
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