The Journal of Experimental Biology
The Company of Biologists, Ltd
Roads have been associated with behavioral and physiological changes in wildlife. In birds, roads decrease reproductive success and biodiversity and increase physiological stress. Although the consequences of roads on individuals and communities have been well described, the mechanisms through which roads affect birds remain largely unexplored. Here, we examine one mechanism through which roads could affect birds: traffic noise. We exposed nestling mountain white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha) to experimentally elevated traffic noise for 5 days during the nestling period. Following exposure to traffic noise we measured nestling stress physiology, immune function, body size, condition and survival. Based on prior studies, we expected the traffic noise treatment to result in elevated stress hormones (glucocorticoids), and declines in immune function, body size, condition and survival. Surprisingly, nestlings exposed to traffic noise had lower glucocorticoid levels and improved condition relative to control nests. These results indicate that traffic noise does affect physiology and development in white-crowned sparrows, but not at all as predicted. Therefore, when evaluating the mechanisms through which roads affect avian populations, other factors (e.g. edge effects, pollution and mechanical vibration) may be more important than traffic noise in explaining elevated nestling stress responses in this species.
© 2013. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd