Sunday, 20 July 2014

Traffic Noise Is No Picnic for Prairie Dogs

By Laura Geggel, Staff Writer | July 18, 2014 05:03pm ET

The first time Graeme Shannon bicycled along the grassy terrain of Colorado, he completely missed the prairie dogs. The small rodents blended into the fields, where they foraged on grass and roots before disappearing into their burrows.

After a closer look, Shannon, a postdoctoral behavioral ecologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, found two prairie-dogcolonies about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the nearestroad. The relative quiet surrounding the burrows made him wonder how the prairie dogs would react to the loud sounds of traffic.

Other researchers have studied the effects of noise pollution on animals — mostly birds and marine creatures — but few have investigated whether it changes the behavior of land mammals. Typically, it's difficult to isolate the effect of human-made noise from other variables, such as chemical pollution and habitat reduction, which can skew findings. The remote prairie colonies solved that problem: Shannon could bring the noise to the prairie dogs and study its effects on their actions.

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