By John R. Platt
It's a rare scientific paper that cites both biologist E.O. Wilson and AC/DC guitarist Angus Young.
In fact, there's only one paper with that distinction: Testing the AC/DC hypothesis: Rock and roll is noise pollution and weakens a trophic cascade, published this week in the journal Ecology and Evolution.
As you might guess from the title, the study—by ecologist Brandon T. Barton and other researchers from Mississippi State University—takes its cue from the famous AC/DC song Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution as an avenue to reveal the actual effects of anthropogenic noise (musical or otherwise) on species and their ecosystems.
Here's the refrain from that song, which AC/DC released on their album Back in Black in 1980.
Rock 'n roll ain't noise pollution
Rock 'n roll ain't gonna die
Rock 'n roll ain't noise pollution
Rock 'n roll it will survive (yes it will)
So what was the effect of this music on natural systems? Not so rockin', as it turns out. The researchers fired up their boom boxes and blared music by AC/DC, Guns N' Roses and other hard-rocking bands (as well as a few less musical urban noises, like jackhammers) at some soybeans and their accompanying aphids (a pest insect) and ladybugs (which normally eat the aphids). During a two-week trial—in which Back in Black was played on a continuous 24-hour loop—the ladybugs became less effective predators and ate fewer aphids. This meant there were 40 times more aphids to consume the soybean plants, resulting in plants that were 25 percent smaller.
In other words, rock 'n roll may survive, but the plants exposed to it were less likely to.
Now, this is about a lot more than AC/DC. The rock music may be the novel part of the experiment, but the most interesting tests were the ones using more urban noises, which were played at roughly the same volume as traditional farm equipment like tractors and combines. Those tests had the same effect on the ladybugs and aphids, which reveals the real-world consequences of anthropogenic sound. "Farm noise could actually reduce the efficiency of natural predators at controlling pests," Barton said in a press release. "If that happens and the pests take off, you might have to spray more chemicals. So it could be a soundscape that's influencing how many chemicals we have to use because it changes the efficiency of the predator."
This is just the latest study that shows human-generated noise is causing trouble for ecosystems. A 2016 study found that the noise from natural-gas extraction sites robs owls of their ability to hunt. Another study published last year found that engine sounds from highways diminished the ability for nearby animals to find prey (or, conversely, to avoid predators), even when the animals live in parks and other protected areas. A study published earlier this year found that birds living near natural-gas well are experiencing PTSD-like symptoms.
What sets this new experiment apart, as Barton wrote in an essay for The Conversation, is that previous studies looked at the direct effect of noise on specific species. Here, the soybean plants weren't themselves harmed by the music, but their ladybug protectors were. "Animals don't live in isolation," Barton wrote. "They're embedded within a tangle of food web interactions with other species. So by affecting even one species, noise pollution—or any other environmental change—may generate indirect effects that spread from individual to individual, and eventually may affect entire communities."
As for the communities affected by their study, the researchers do offer their apology to AC/DC for proving that "in some contexts, rock and roll is noise pollution." They also, however, thank the band for their contribution to the work, which led to one of the more interesting acknowledgment sections I've seen in a recent scientific paper: "We thank B.F. Johnson, A.M. Young, M.M. Young, C. Williams, P.H.N. Rudd, and R.B. Scott for inspiration and motivation to conduct this research. This work is dedicated to the memory of M.M. Young, who passed away during the preparation of this manuscript."
Ah, science: One more way rock 'n roll will survive (yes it will) and live forever.
Now turn down the music, kids. There are some ladybugs doing important work over here.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- Trump Orders Hospitals to Stop Sending COVID-19 Data to CDC ... ›
- Two White House Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Admin to Disband Coronavirus Task Force - EcoWatch ›
- Pence Offers 'Prayers' as Hurricane Laura Hits Gulf Coast While ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
- Covering the 2020 Elections as a Climate Story - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks ... ›
By Elliot Douglas
The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.
- German Business Leaders Call for Climate Action With COVID-19 ... ›
- Climate Activists Protest Germany's New Datteln 4 Coal Power Plant ... ›
By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.