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Although previous studies have related variations in environmental noise levels with alterations in communication behaviors of birds, little work has investigated the potential long-term implications of living or breeding in noisy habitats. However, noise has the potential to reduce fitness, both directly (because it is a physiological stressor) and indirectly (by masking important vocalizations and/or leading to behavioral changes). Here, we quantified acoustic conditions in active breeding territories of male Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis). Simultaneously, we measured four fitness indicators: cuckoldry rates, brood growth rate and condition, and number of fledglings produced (i.e., productivity). Increases in environmental noise tended to be associated with smaller brood sizes and were more strongly related to reductions in productivity. Although the mechanism responsible for these patterns is not yet clear, the breeding depression experienced by this otherwise disturbance-tolerant species indicates that anthropogenic noise may have damaging effects on individual fitness and, by extraction, the persistence of populations in noisy habitats. We suggest that managers might protect avian residents from potentially harmful noise by keeping acoustically dominant anthropogenic habitat features as far as possible from favored songbird breeding habitats, limiting noisy human activities, and/or altering habitat structure in order to minimize the propagation of noise pollution.



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Copyright by the Ecological Society of America

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