Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Soundscapes And Increased Anthropogenic Disturbance Effects

As we gaze over wild landscapes and seascapes, it is easy to see examples of anthropogenic disturbances.  These include building roads and structures, harvesting natural resources, and recreation forays by walking, boating, vehicular traffic, and other means to transport.  Our presence and disturbance in these wild areas clearly has effects on wildlife.  As we become aware of our footprints in these areas, we can mitigate effects by learning how to make our presence softer and less frequent.  Our increased adulation and presence in wild areas may often “love them to death”.  We must balance the pervasive need for healthy wild areas, our need to interact and recreate with these areas, and the often overwhelming need to conceptualize and manage wild areas.  If we do not pay attention to the unique qualities of wild areas, we may “manage them to death” in our own image.  Sometimes the best management is to manage humans, while leaving wild areas alone to intrinsic natural processes.  
The effects of increased anthropogenic sound can be even more widespread than the visual effects of disturbance.  Increased sound is perceived by animals as predation risk.  Disturbances evoke antipredator behavior  and interfere with foraging, parental care, and mating.  Increased sound can also mask animal communication and hearing, fundamentally altering animal interactions.  Some animals can adjust their vocalization to compensate for reduced hearing and communication, but this ability varies widely among species.  Animals change their distributions in response to anthropogenic sound.  Bird nesting density is reduced in noisy areas.  Other species avoid areas of increased sound, thereby reducing their available habitat.  
When planning parks and open wild lands, whether terrestrial or aquatic, it is essential to evaluate all aspects of the space.  We can consider physical setting (land, water, sky, and climate), visual stimuli (open, cover, transition areas, edge effects), soundscape (sound levels and information, including anthropogenic sounds), available resources for feeding and reproduction, and all of the living inhabitants.  Human interactions through conservation of wild areas are summarized in the mission statement for the US National Park System to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations” (NPS Organic Act, 1916).  Fulfillment of this conservation mission includes evaluation of all the resources available, understanding the possible enjoyment of these resources, and conservation management for the resources into the future.  We are part of the landscape and soundscape.  As such we need to integrate our activities in a way that does not threaten our neighbors, human and other animals.  We can all get along together if we respect each other and continue communicating beyond the din of civilization.
Posted by michael

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