Paper explores ecological consequences of chronic road noise near predatory environments
The Journal of Zoology has awarded their annual "Paper of the Year" award to research by UMassD undergraduate biology alumna Alyssa Giordano '21 (lead author), UMassD Associate Professor of Biology, Michael Sheriff, and Stockholm University postdoctoral student Louis Hunninck.
Giordano, a 2021 graduate who continued working as a research assistant at the university through the spring of 2023, now works as an Aquarist at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.
"Receiving this recognition from a major journal this early in my career is news I was not expecting to hear, and I am welcoming it very warmly," says Giordano. "To me, this is a sign confirming that I must be set on the right path and it is motivating me to continue the work in my field with dedication and enthusiasm! I am very grateful that the journal’s editors found this topic to be as interesting and important to conservation as I have. I hope the consequences of anthropogenic effects cross more minds as a result."
The paper explores the ecological consequences of chronic road noise near prey animals' environments, providing valuable insights into wildlife conservation and habitat management. The study investigates how heightened predation risk, coupled with the stress induced by continuous road noise, influences the behavior and survival of prey species.
"This paper addresses the increasingly significant issue for wildlife today, anthropogenic noise, through a really clever experiment that tested for differences in foraging and vigilance behavior of small mammals when exposed to either predation risk or road noise alone, or predation risk concurrent with road noise," the journal's blog states. "With its innovative design, this is one of the first studies to concurrently examine the effects of road noise and predation risk on free-living prey, and the results of their study are fascinating."
Anthropogenic noise, such as human-generated noise like cars passing by on a highway, has been hypothesized to affect prey responses in three different ways:
- Increased responses because prey have a difficult time detecting predatory noises in the presence of background noise, leading to more caution.
- Decreased responses because prey have a difficult time detecting predatory noises in the presence of background noise, leading to less caution.
- Increased responses because prey perceive background noise itself as a threat, without the presence of predatory noise.
While there's evidence to support each of these hypotheses, prior studies focused on avian and marine animals, not terrestrial prey animals like chipmunks, mice, and squirrels.
To evaluate this, Giordano, Sheriff, and Hunninck exposed free-living chipmunks and mice to four audio playbacks – non-predators, predation risk, predation risk and road noise, and road noise alone – measuring the small mammals' food intake, foraging behavior, and vigilance during each audio playback.
The group found that overall, chipmunks and mice increased their food intake when exposed to road noise, and that road noise also reduced the amount of time the animals spent on foraging behavior and vigilance, suggesting that road noise reduces small mammal perception of predation risk, aligning with the second hypothesis.