Anthropogenic noise affects song structure in red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Wilson, David R. and Hanna, Dalal E. L. and Blouin-Demers, Gabriel and Mennill, Daniel J. (2011) Anthropogenic noise affects song structure in red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus). Journal of Experimental Biology, 214 (21). pp. 3549-3556. ISSN 0022-0949

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Anthropogenic noise can mask animal signals that are crucial for communicating information about food, predators and mating opportunities. In response to noise masking, signallers can potentially improve acoustic signal transmission by adjusting the timing, frequency or amplitude of their signals. These changes can be a short-term modification in response to transient noise or a long-term modification in response to chronic noise. An animal’s ability to adapt to anthropogenic noise can be crucial to its success. In this study, we evaluated the effects of anthropogenic noise on the structure of red-winged blackbird song. First, we manipulated the presence of anthropogenic noise by experimentally broadcasting either silence or low-frequency white noise to subjects inhabiting quiet marshes located away from roadsides. Subjects exhibited increased signal tonality when temporarily exposed to low-frequency white noise, suggesting that red-winged blackbirds can alter their signals rapidly in response to sudden noise. Second, we compared songs produced in quiet marshes located away from roadsides with songs produced during quiet periods at roadside marshes that are normally noisy. This allowed us to test whether birds that are exposed to chronic anthropogenic noise exhibit altered song structure during temporarily quiet periods. Subjects residing in roadside marshes that are normally polluted with anthropogenic noise sang songs with increased tonality during quiet periods. Overall, our results show that anthropogenic noise influences the structure of birdsong. These effects should be considered in conservation and wildlife management.

Item Type: Article
Item ID: 9784
Keywords: anthropogenic noise, behavioural plasticity, birdsong, communication, conservation, red-winged blackbird, song structure
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Psychology
Science, Faculty of > Psychology
Date: 1 November 2011
Date Type: Publication
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