Noise disrupts interdependencies in the web of life

A blog by Ocean Conservation Research: Science and Technology Serving the Sea

While it is easier to evaluate specific impacts of a stimulus on specific animals, we know that nature is not just a catalog of individual species; rather it is a fabric of interdependent organisms living in interconnected physical habitats.
This point is punctuated in a recent paper on the Proceedings of the Royal Society that evaluates the noise impacts of gas well fields on the pollination and dispersal of piñon pine seedlings in New Mexico.

Aerial view of roads and pipes of a fracking field operation

Gas wells use compressors which can be really noisy. The paper examines how the noise of a compressor field impacts hummingbirds that pollinate the piñons, and blue jays that disperse the piñon seeds. They found that the number of piñon seedlings were one quarter the density in the noisy compressor area than in quiet areas. This would indicate that the hummingbirds are not bothered by the noise, but the jays are.
This negative seed dispersal condition is further amplified by the fact that mice that eat the seeds are also not bothered by the noise, so that while there is no negative impact on pollination, the seeds that are produced are eaten by mice rather than distributed by jays.

Pazflor Field Layout for sea-floor processing

This is an example of how noise disrupts a simple set of relationships between three species of vertebrates, and how the disruption impacts one species of tree.
We know quite a bit about terrestrial interdependencies because we spend most of our time “on the ground.” But we can be sure that the ocean is full of equally important interdependencies which we have yet to discover.

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