Anthropogenic noise decreases urban songbird diversity and may contribute to homogenization


Correspondence: Darren S. Proppe, Calvin College, Biology Department, 3201 Burton St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546, USA, tel. (616) 526-6662, fax (616) 526-7701, e-mail:


More humans reside in urban areas than at any other time in history. Protected urban green spaces and transportation greenbelts support many species, but diversity in these areas is generally lower than in undeveloped landscapes. Habitat degradation and fragmentation contribute to lowered diversity and urban homogenization, but less is known about the role of anthropogenic noise. Songbirds are especially vulnerable to anthropogenic noise because they rely on acoustic signals for communication. Recent studies suggest that anthropogenic noise reduces the density and reproductive success of some bird species, but that species which vocalize at frequencies above those of anthropogenic noise are more likely to inhabit noisy areas. We hypothesize that anthropogenic noise is contributing to declines in urban diversity by reducing the abundance of select species in noisy areas, and that species with low-frequency songs are those most likely to be affected. To examine this relationship, we calculated the noise-associated change in overall species richness and in abundance for seven common songbird species. After accounting for variance due to vegetative differences, species richness and the abundance of three of seven species were reduced in noisier locations. Acoustic analysis revealed that minimum song frequency was highly predictive of a species' response to noise, with lower minimum song frequencies incurring greater noise-associated reduction in abundance. These results suggest that anthropogenic noise affects some species independently of vegetative conditions, exacerbating the exclusion of some songbird species in otherwise suitable habitat. Minimum song frequency may provide a useful metric to predict how particular species will be affected by noise. In sum, mitigation of noise may enhance habitat suitability for many songbird species, especially for species with songs that include low-frequency elements.