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Impacts of Traffic Noise and Traffic Volume on Birds of Roadside Habitats

Kirsten M. Parris, School of Botany, University of Melbourne, Australia; Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, Australia
Angela Schneider, Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Australia

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Abstract

Roadside habitats are important for a range of taxa including plants, insects, mammals, and birds, particularly in developed countries in which large expanses of native vegetation have been cleared for agriculture or urban development. Although roadside vegetation may provide suitable habitat for many species, resident animals can be exposed to high levels of traffic noise, visual disturbance from passing vehicles, and the risk of collision with cars and trucks. Traffic noise can reduce the distance over which acoustic signals such as song can be detected, an effect known as acoustic interference or masking. Studies from the northern hemisphere show that the singing behavior of birds changes in the presence of traffic noise. We investigated the impact of traffic noise and traffic volume on two species of birds, the Grey Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica) and the Grey Fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa), at 58 roadside sites on the Mornington Peninsula, southeastern Australia. The lower singing Grey Shrike-thrush sang at a higher frequency in the presence of traffic noise, with a predicted increase in dominant frequency of 5.8 Hz/dB of traffic noise, and a total effect size of 209 Hz. In contrast, the higher singing Grey Fantail did not appear to change its song in traffic noise. The probability of detecting each species on a visit to a site declined substantially with increasing traffic noise and traffic volume, with several lines of evidence supporting a larger effect of traffic noise. Traffic noise could hamper detection of song by conspecifics, making it more difficult for birds to establish and maintain territories, attract mates and maintain pair bonds, and possibly leading to reduced breeding success in noisy roadside habitats. Closing key roads during the breeding season is a potential, but untested, management strategy to protect threatened bird species from traffic noise and collision with vehicles at the time of year when they are most vulnerable to their impacts. Other management options include reducing the speed and/or volume of traffic on such roads to an acceptably low level. Ours is the first study to investigate the effect of traffic noise on the singing behavior of birds in the southern hemisphere.

Key words

acoustic interference; ambient noise; bioacoustics; conservation biology; road ecology; signal design; traffic noise; vocal communication.
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087