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The effects of aircraft noise on avian communities and communication

Wolfenden, Andrew (2017) The effects of aircraft noise on avian communities and communication. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

Noise generated by low-altitude aircraft movements reaches levels higher than many other anthropogenic noise sources. How birds respond to these acute noise levels is, to date, poorly understood. This thesis provides some of the first data on how noise generated by aircraft affects avian communities and communication. Firstly, point counts conducted around Manchester airport show there is no effect of increasing noise levels on beta diversity. In addition, results show the density and abundance of the two most abundant species and the number of detections for the five most common species was also unaffected. Secondly, comparisons of the songs of the abundant chiffchaff reveal that airport birds use lower frequency songs than control birds. This finding was replicated in two countries. Additionally, the songs of airport birds in the UK are longer and slower than control birds. These findings may be explained by birds that are found close to airports are suffering from Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). This was supported when comparing the responses of airport and control chiffchaffs to territorial songs; airport chiffchaffs were more aggressive, attacking the speaker 5 times more than control birds. An explanation for this is that as an artefact of NIHL, airport birds perceive songs differently to those in the control site. Finally, physiological stress induced by aircraft noise was investigated. There were no differences in corticosterone levels, a proxy for measuring stress levels, between 11-day old blue tit chicks exposed to noise treatments and control chicks. These findings suggest that pre-fledging blue tit chicks do not perceive anthropogenic noise as an environmental stressor. Whilst the work in this thesis does not detect an effect of aircraft noise on the species community or corticosterone levels, it does provide evidence consistent with the loss of hearing in birds as a consequence of anthropogenic noise exposure.

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