Research Shows Traffic Noise Causing Accelerated Aging in Finches

When people consider the harm that modern society and technological advances are doing in regards to endangering birds, traffic noise is most often not one of the top by-products of our culture that many would assume has a large negative impact. However, research emerging over the past few years paints a new and quite uncomfortable picture of how something so ingrained into our everyday lives is having a startling effect on many bird populations.

It has been previously documented that many city birds have different songs to their country counterparts, and that city birds actively adapt their song depending on the noise around them as well as the pitch and frequency of these birdsongs. As birdsong is used to not only attract a mate but also to defend their territory, noise pollution in general can have some worrying consequences in affecting birds ability to do either.

More recently it is believed that noise pollution such as that caused by busy roads is actually shortening birds lifespans and causing them to age at a rate faster than natural.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany and North Dakota State University carried out an investigation using Zebra Finches to specifically measure the impact that traffic noise had on the length of the bird’s telomere – a telomere being a sort of covering or cap on the ends of a chromosome that protects the genes from damage. Shorter telomeres are a sign of increased aging.

zebra finch 2

The researchers took a total of 263 birds and split these into three groups. One group consisted of finches that were only exposed to traffic noise after leaving the nest at 18 days old, and this group had their telomeres recorded at 120 days old. Another group were hatched into traffic noise conditions and so were subject to these conditions from before hatching, and had their telomeres recorded at 18 days old. The final group had no exposure to traffic noise at all.

The results showed that the group who had been exposed to traffic noise after leaving the nest had shorter telomeres, as they struggled to adapt to a new environment. The group who had been exposed to traffic noise since before their hatching had a lesser number of decreased telomeres, whilst those who were not exposed to bird song at all had the least number of decreased telomeres.

This has led researchers to believe that the period of 18 days to 120 days is critical in a birds life in regards to being affected by the noise around them, and that traffic noise has a debilitating effect on birds aging; the less telomeres, the quicker the cellular aging process.

Dr Adriana Dorado-Correa, co-author of the study is reported by the Telegraph as saying that “our study is a first step towards identifying the causal mechanisms that may account for differences in lifespan observed between birds living in urban or rural environments.” Traffic noise is just one of many environmental factors that can have a negative impact on the wildlife around us, and it is hoped that with further research more light can be shed on the effects of these factors and more consideration can be given as to how to lessen the impact can be made.

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Jessica Howard

Jessica Howard

31 years old, currently living and working in London, UK.

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