How and why environmental noise impacts animals: an integrative, mechanistic review


  • Both authors contributed equally to this research.

Correspondence and present address: Centre for Ecology & Conservation, School of Biosciences, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, Tremough, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9EZ,


Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 1052–1061


The scope and magnitude of anthropogenic noise pollution are often much greater than those of natural noise and are predicted to have an array of deleterious effects on wildlife. Recent work on this topic has focused mainly on behavioural responses of animals exposed to noise. Here, by outlining the effects of acoustic stimuli on animal physiology, development, neural function and genetic effects, we advocate the use of a more mechanistic approach in anthropogenic environments. Specifically, we summarise evidence and hypotheses from research on laboratory, domestic and free-living animals exposed to biotic and abiotic stimuli, studied both observationally and experimentally. We hope that this molecular- and cellular-focused literature, which examines the effects of noise on the neuroendocrine system, reproduction and development, metabolism, cardiovascular health, cognition and sleep, audition, the immune system, and DNA integrity and gene expression, will help researchers better understand results of previous work, as well as identify new avenues of future research in anthropogenic environments. Furthermore, given the interconnectedness of these physiological, cellular and genetic processes, and their effects on behaviour and fitness, we suggest that much can be learned from a more integrative framework of how and why animals are affected by environmental noise.