Plants and Noise Pollution

By Susan Littlefield

Well, corn may have ears, but we know it can't hear! So it seems on the surface that noise in the environment should have little effect on plants. But a recent study done around noisy gas wells in a New Mexico woodland showed some surprising results. Some wells had machinery that emitted constant loud noise, while other wells that were similar in setup but lacked the noisy machinery served as controls.

The important thing to remember is that everything in an ecosystem is connected. So while the clamor from the noisy wells' compressors blasting out sound around the clock did not affect plants directly, it did have an effect on other parts of the biological community, which in turn had an effect on plants.

For example, researchers found that the birds that spread the seeds of pines around without eating them all were driven off by the noise, while mice didn't seem to mind the din. The mice also feed on pine seeds, but tend to eat most of their cache, leaving fewer seeds around to grow into new pine trees.

Black-chinned hummingbirds (pictured)and house finches were more populous around the noisy wells, which the researchers speculated might be because predatory bird species were driven off by the noise. Western scrub jays, for example, were very scarce around the noisy wells. This affected plants by increasing the amount of hummingbird pollination going on around the noisy wells.

This study is a good reminder of the interconnectedness of everything in the natural world and how important it is to keep these connections in mind when we make any changes in the environment.

To read more about this research, go to: Science News.

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