Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The effects of anthropogenic noise on Greater Sage-Grouse ( Centrocercus urophasianus) lek attendance, communication, and behavior
by Blickley, Jessica Leigh, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2013, 131; 3565479
Abstract (Summary)

Noise associated with human activity is widespread and expanding rapidly in terrestrial environments, but there is still much to learn about its effects on animals. To determine the effect of introduced noise on lek attendance and strutting behavior, I played back recorded continuous and intermittent anthropogenic sounds associated with natural gas drilling and roads at leks of Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). For 3 breeding seasons, I monitored sage-grouse abundance at leks with and without noise. Peak male attendance (i.e., abundance) at leks experimentally treated with noise from natural gas drilling and roads decreased 29% and 73% respectively relative to paired controls. Decreases in abundance at leks treated with noise occurred in the first year of the study and were sustained throughout the experiment. There was limited evidence for an effect of noise playback on peak female attendance during the experiment or on male attendance the year after the experiment ended. These results suggest that sage-grouse avoid leks with anthropogenic noise and that intermittent noise has a greater effect on attendance than continuous noise. To quantify the potential for noise from natural gas infrastructure to mask sage-grouse vocalizations over both long and short distances, I analyzed both the individual notes of mating vocalizations produced by male sage-grouse and recordings of such noise. Noise produced by natural gas infrastructure is predicted to mask sage-grouse vocalizations substantially, reducing the active space of detection and discrimination of all vocalization components, particularly impacting notes that are low frequency and low amplitude. Such masking could increase the difficulty of mate assessment for lekking sage-grouse. Significant impacts to sage-grouse populations have been measured at noise levels that predict little to no masking. I investigated whether male sage-grouse adjust the repetition and timing of their strut displays in response to playback of noise associated with natural gas development. I compared the signaling behavior of male sage-grouse on leks with long-term drilling and road noise playback to that of males on similar leks with no noise playback. Males exposed to long-term drilling noise playback strutted at higher rates and in longer bouts than males on control leks, while males on road noise leks strutted at lower rates and in shorter bouts than males on control leks; these differences were only observed during close courtship, when strut rate is most important in influencing female mate choice. I did a short-term playback of intermittent traffic noise and compared the strut timing of individuals during noisy and quiet periods. Males performed fewer struts overall during noisy periods, but male strutting behavior was related to female proximity. Males that were not closely approached by females strutted less during noisy periods than quiet periods and males that engaged in close courtship with females strutted at similar rates during noisy and quiet periods, even when females were far away. Introduced noise associated with natural gas development causes large declines in sage-grouse lek attendance and is likely to cause substantial masking of sage-grouse vocalizations. However, masking is not likely to be the only mechanism of noise impact on this species. Sage-grouse may at least partially reduce masking impacts through behavioral plasticity, adjusting the timing of their signals in a manner that may reduce the impacts of masking on communication.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Patricelli, Gail L.
Commitee: Eadie, John M., McCowan, Brenda
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Ecology
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-B 74/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Ecology, Conservation, Behavioral Sciences
Keywords: Anthropogenic noise, Centrocercus urophasianus, Communication, Masking, Natural gas development, Sage-grouse
Publication Number: 3565479
ISBN: 978-1-303-15280-1
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