When ambient noise impairs parent-offspring communication
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Environmental pollution. - London
, p. 592-597
University of Antwerp
Ambient noise has increased in extent, duration and intensity with significant implications for species' lives. Birds especially, because they heavily rely on vocal communication, are highly sensitive towards noise pollution. Noise can impair the quality of a territory or hamper the transmission of vocal signals such as song. The latter has significant fitness consequences as it may erode partner preferences in the context of mate choice. Additional fitness costs may arise if noise masks communication between soliciting offspring and providing parents during the period of parental care. Here, we experimentally manipulated the acoustic environment of blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) families within their nest boxes with playbacks of previously recorded highway noise and investigated the consequences on parent offspring communication. We hypothesized that noise interferes with the acoustic cues of parental arrival and vocal components of offspring begging. As such we expected an increase in the frequency of missed detections, when nestlings fail to respond to the returning parent, and a decrease in parental provisioning rates. Parents significantly reduced their rate of provisioning in noisy conditions compared to a control treatment. This reduction is likely to be the consequence of a parental misinterpretation of the offspring hunger level, as we found that nestlings fail to respond to the returning parent more frequently in the presence of noise. Noise also potentially masks vocal begging components, again contributing to parental underestimation of offspring requirements. Either way, it appears that noise impaired parent-offspring communication is likely to reduce reproductive success. (C) 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.