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Keywords:

  • adaptation;
  • biodiversity;
  • city life;
  • conservation;
  • ecological speciation;
  • homogenization;
  • traffic noise;
  • urbanization

Abstract

The dramatic increase in human activities all over the world has caused, on an evolutionary time scale, a sudden rise in especially low-pitched noise levels. Ambient noise may be detrimental to birds through direct stress, masking of predator arrival or associated alarm calls, and by interference of acoustic signals in general. Two of the most important functions of avian acoustic signals are territory defence and mate attraction. Both of these functions are hampered when signal efficiency is reduced through rising noise levels, resulting in direct negative fitness consequences. Many bird species are less abundant near highways and studies are becoming available on reduced reproductive success in noisy territories. Urbanization typically leads to homogenization of bird communities over large geographical ranges. We review current evidence for whether and how anthropogenic noise plays a role in these patterns of decline in diversity and density. We also provide details of a case study on great tits (Parus major), a successful urban species. Great tits show features that other species may lack and make them unsuitable for city life. We hypothesize that behavioural plasticity in singing behaviour may allow species more time to adapt to human-altered environments and we address the potential for microevolutionary changes and urban speciation in European blackbirds (Turdus merula). We conclude by providing an overview of mitigating measures available to abate noise levels that are degrading bird breeding areas. Bird conservationists probably gain most by realizing that birds and humans often benefit from the same or only slightly modified measures.