March 27, 2012, noonView more articles
Previous research carried out by Dr Clinton Francis and his colleagues at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in America showed that man-made noise affects the behaviour of animals. In their latest study, the group investigated whether man-made noise would also have an impact on the plants in the affected ecosystems.
As plants cannot move they often rely on animals for pollination and seed dispersal. In one set of experiments the researchers showed that changes in bird behaviour led to greater pollen transfer between flowers, leading to a higher level of pollination, which is beneficial for the plants. However, in another set of experiments birds were discouraged from certain areas due to noise and as a result did not distribute the seeds of the pinyon tree. Such a lowered level of pollination and seed dispersal has clear negative implications for the continuity of the pinyon tree.
The group studied two areas with similar eco-systems but one was near a natural gas site that had extensive and continued man-made noise. If the man-made noise at the sites studied by the researchers was removed, the behavior of the animals in the ecosystem would return to normal. However, even if happened, there are potential long-term effects in areas that suffer a continued lack of seed dispersal. Dr Francis explained that "because fewer seedlings are growing in noisy areas the future woodland may look very different from how it does today, because there might be fewer mature pinyon pine trees. This long-term decrease in pinyon pine trees may also be bad for the many species that depend on pinyon pine".
This depletion and potential loss of a key plant species has far-reaching effects on the ecosystem and is another example of why humans need to fully understand the impact of our behaviour on the environment.
What motivated you to become a scientist?
I became a biologist because I have always been fascinated by the natural world. I wanted to find out why species live where they do and understand the links between species that live in the same area.
What is the best thing about the research you do?
There are a lot of good things about being a biologist. For me, I like that I get to work outside for part of the year when I'm doing fieldwork. I also like that I get to ask puzzling questions, then figure out how to answer them through research. Sometimes the answers are what I expected them to be, but often the answers surprise me and prompt a whole new set of interesting questions to solve.