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NO0235 The Effects of Noise on Biodiversity - NO0235

Anthropogenic (man-made) noise is causing an ever-increasing problem in all environments, both terrestrial and aquatic. A burgeoning number of studies from around the world have therefore begun to investigate the impacts of noise pollution on the behaviour, physiology and development of individual animals, on the interactions between species and on community structure. The University of Bristol has put together a superbly qualified team of bioacousticians and biodiversity experts to assess the current state of knowledge relating to the likely impact of anthropogenic noise on UK non-marine species, and especially those listed as Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority species.
Objective 1: Identify and review relevant literature (pertains to tasks 1 and 2 in the specification document)

We will collate information about the following five key topics:

a) The main sources of anthropogenic noise in the UK, their prevalence and their likely scale of impact. We will summarize information summarizing the frequencies and amplitudes of the main sources of noise that terrestrial and freshwater taxa are subjected to in the UK, and highlight gaps in our knowledge. Although the focus will be on road traffic noise, it is also important to consider potential impacts of, for example, aircraft, resource extraction and motorized recreation in the terrestrial environment. Moreover, road traffic noise is unlikely to be important to the fish species under consideration, so information on the most important noise sources in the freshwater environment will also be provided. For rivers and lakes, that is likely to be primarily public transport and recreational boat activities, but several of the BAP fish species (e.g. Atlantic salmon and European eel) also inhabit estuarine waters and spend some time at sea, meaning they can be exposed to coastal windfarms and construction work for considerable periods of their lives.

b) The known impacts of anthropogenic noise on UK species in general and BAP species in particular.
We will consider all demonstrated impacts, from behavioural, physiological and developmental responses to effects on reproductive success and survival, and thus population sizes and viability, which is ultimately most important. We will evaluate whether fitness consequences of noise are measurable for specific taxa and, if not, what the best proxies of fitness consequences that can be measured are likely to be. Moreover, we will provide information on rigorous studies where noise has had no demonstrable impact, although the publishing of such information in the scientific literature is much less commonplace. We will also consider ethical issues, especially those relevant to performing experimental work with protected or endangered species.

c) The hearing abilities (ideally audiogram information) of BAP species.
This is a vital component of the project for two main reasons. First, for assessing whether studies demonstrating an apparent lack of a noise effect (see Objective 1b) represent an inability to detect the relevant sounds or possible cases of, for example, tolerance or habituation. Second, for making predictions about likely impacts; a preliminary search of the literature has indicated that relatively little research in this field has considered UK BAP species directly, and thus we will make careful extrapolations from existing knowledge (see Objective 3).

d) The known impacts of noise (not specifically anthropogenic) on species that are similar phylogenetically and ecologically to BAP species.
Again, this is a crucial element of the project given the relative paucity of studies examining BAP species directly, because it will allow a more detailed consideration of the potential impact of anthropogenic noise (see Objective 3).

e) The impact of anthropogenic noise on biodiversity.
Although ‘biodiversity’ is included in the title of the project, the specifications focus entirely on the potential impact of noise on individual species, albeit from a range of taxa. However, some recent work has attempted to assess the impact of noise on community structure, species interactions and biodiversity directly (see Background), and so we will also review this issue with particular relevance to the UK.

Objective 2: Make an informed assessment of the strength of evidence (pertains to tasks 2 and 6 in the final specification document)

Conclusions presented in the grey literature, and sometimes also in scientific journals, do not always follow logically or soundly from the results obtained in the work; the methodology adopted is not always rigorous and over-interpretations are common. As a relevant example, much of the existing work on the potential impacts of anthropogenic noise uses correlative data, perhaps comparing individuals of the same species in two or more different types of area (e.g. near to and far away from roads). Any apparent differences in behaviour or physiology are often attributed to the greater noise near roads, but they could equally be the consequence of, for example, the increased lighting and disturbance in such areas. Without specific testing of these alternative hypotheses, the conclusions relating to the importance of noise are greatly weakened. Such assessment of the quality and strength of results is a vital component of this project, and is best done by those with considerable experience of scientifically rigorous research.

Objective 3: Use indirect information to assess the likely impact of anthropogenic noise on BAP species (pertains to tasks 3 and 6 in final specification document)

Because relatively few studies have examined the impact of anthropogenic noise on BAP species directly, we will conduct three types of informed extrapolation of available data. We will combine what is known about the hearing abilities of the relevant UK species (see Objective 1c) with the prevalence and scale of noise sources (see Objective 1a). We will also use information about the impacts of non-anthropogenic noise sources and about phylogenetically and ecologically similar species from other parts of the world and the UK (see Objective 1d), to assess the level of risk for each of the species/groups of relevance.

Objective 4: Identify patterns and gaps in the findings (pertains to task 4)

We will collate the information on UK species in general and BAP species in particular (including our extrapolations from Objective 3) into tabulated format, including relevant references and an assessment of the strength of evidence. We will use these tables to identify patterns (e.g. whether specific taxa appear more vulnerable, whether particular ecological niches are more at risk) and gaps in our knowledge (e.g. whether particular groups are under-represented, whether only particular aspects of life-history have been considered).

Objective 5: Brief Defra on our findings and seek advice on the format of reporting that would be most useful (pertains to task 5)

We will present our findings to the Steering Group, highlighting the key areas of concern, the clear patterns that have emerged from our research and the major gaps in our knowledge. We will also engage in an active dialogue to determine how best to present our findings, in addition to the requested tables (see Objective 4), so that the report can be used to inform policy and future funding decisions.

Objective 6: Write final report (pertains to tasks 5 and 6)

Our final report will include the tables summarizing the key information about UK species in general and BAP species in particular (see Objective 4), how strong the evidence is and what we can estimate from other studies and knowledge (Objective 3). We will also discuss the most pressing requirements in terms of future research investigating the potential impacts of anthropogenic noise on non-marine UK species.
Project Documents
• EVID4 - Final project report : NO0235 Published Exec Summary Evid4   (131k)
• FRP - Final Report : NO0235 Published Report   (895k)
• ANX - Annex : NO0235 Published Appendices   (999k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2011

To: 2012

Cost: £29,989
Contractor / Funded Organisations
University of Bristol
Fields of Study