Scientists: climate change alters nature’s soundtrack

10 Desember 2019

While we know climate change is in the process of altering our living conditions, scientists are also starting to discover some of its more subtle outcomes. A case in point: the way our planet sounds.

In an article published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, the researchers suggest that climate change reshapes how many places across the globe sounds, compared even to a few decades ago. This regards biotic sounds and abiotic sounds: birds, frogs, cicadas and even rivers are starting to sound different than they did before. 

Silence is an increasingly common characteristic for many soundscapes, such as the Sugarloaf State Park in the United States in spring, which used to burst with a myriad forms of sound just 15 years ago. However, those changes mean much more than the mere alteration of frequencies: they are also a signal for us to understand how the rest of nature is experiencing climate change.  

Building on the science of biophony founded by an independent researcher and co-author of the paper Bernie Krause, the team investigated what lies behind the loss of acoustic diversity, and what can we learn from it. 

Changes in temperature, humidity, wind speed, and other climate parameters change the way sound is transmitted, how animals perceive it, and even how vocal cords of different species operate. While for us the difference between speaking under 28 and 32 degrees Celsius might not feel significant, for species with less adaptable vocal cords this often becomes the question of life and death.

As humans, we should bear in mind that those changes also have a direct impact on our lives. “For humans, changes in biophonic patterns can be a factor of anxiety and stress,” note the researchers. Meanwhile, losing nature’s soundscapes also means losing places to recover, making previously popular tourist attractions less attractive and profitable.

With the rising frequency of hurricanes, floods, and cyclones, we are likely to see new soundscapes emerge. However, more likely is an impoverishment of acoustic diversity. The team calls for extensive research and monitoring, especially considering the unprecedented conjunction of technological breakthroughs and global extinction.

Today, ecoacusticians have access to technologies that can record multiple sound layers of a quickly vanishing world. Sharing this beauty across the planet may help turn more people towards protecting biodiversity and acting on climate, both of which are as critical as ever.

The researchers also call for reducing noise pollution, which often inhibits the capacity of species to communicate, breed and locate themselves in space. They conclude with a simple yet powerful insight: “new atmospheric conditions are detuning natural sounds and only major mitigation actions will help preserve Earth’s beat.”

If we care about nature, we should start listening better to the diversity of ways in which it speaks. Hopefully, acknowledging the auditory space occupied by other species can also help us become more respectful towards nature in general.

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