Experimental playback study investigating effects of oil infrastructure noise on migratory grassland songbirds

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Rosa, Patricia
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Anthropogenic noise has become widespread across all biomes, resulting in significant concern about its potentially detrimental impacts on wildlife and natural systems. Due to the increasing demand for crude oil in prairie habitats, grassland songbirds may be particularly vulnerable to projected increases in associated acoustic footprints. To isolate effects of different oil infrastructures from physical disturbances associated with the noise sources, I designed and implemented a novel large-scale, spatially and temporally replicated experimental playback study. By implementing this study design, I found that anthropogenic noise constrains animal communication across a much larger surface area when considering interferences with attentional processes in addition to energetic masking of signals. Further, I showed that oil infrastructure noise and infrastructure can decouple habitat use from habitat quality for three of my four focal grassland songbird species. Overall, intermittent drilling noise proved to be more detrimental to grassland songbirds than predictable, chronic noise, and both noise and above-ground infrastructure reduced habitat quality for specialist and threatened species, emphasising the importance of constructing studies that are able to disentangle effects of noise from physical infrastructure. Current noise mitigation recommendations to reduce impact of oil activities on migratory grassland songbirds are too broad, inaccurate, and can be easily circumvented. However, my results show that noise presents a threat to several species, and thus mitigation of noise produced by oil development would be beneficial to grassland songbirds.
anthropogenic noise, grassland songbirds, masking, conservation, energy development, playback experiment