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Aircraft sound exposure leads to song frequency decline and elevated aggression 3 in wild chiffchaffs

De Kort, Selvino and Wolfenden, Andrew and Slabbekoorn, Hans and Kluk, Karolina (2019) Aircraft sound exposure leads to song frequency decline and elevated aggression 3 in wild chiffchaffs. Journal of Animal Ecology. ISSN 0021-8790


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The ubiquitous anthropogenic low-frequency noise impedes communication by masking animal signals. To overcome this communication barrier, animals may increase the frequency, amplitude and delivery rate of their acoustic signals, making them more easily heard. However, a direct impact of intermittent, high-level aircraft noise on birds’ behaviour living close to a runway has not been studies in detail. 2. We recorded common chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita songs near two airports and nearby control areas, and we measured sound levels in their territories at Manchester airport. The song recordings were made in between aircraft movements, when ambient sound levels were similar between airport and control populations. We also conducted playback experiments at the airport and a control population to test the salience of airport, and control population specific songs. 3. In contrast to the general pattern of increased song frequency in noisy areas, we show that common chiffchaffs at airports show a negative relationship between noise exposure level and song frequency. 4. Experimental data show that chiffchaffs living near airports also respond more aggressively to song playback. 5. Since the decrease in song frequency results in increased overlap with aircraft noise, these findings cannot be explained as an adaptation to improve communication. The increased levels of aggression suggests that chiffchaffs, like humans, might be affected behaviourally by extreme noise pollution. These findings should influence environmental impact assessments for airport expansions globally.

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