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The great outdoors is becoming a lot quieter – and it's not just because everyone is walking around wearing noise-canceling headphones.
According to recent research, the soundscapes of nature contain significantly less birdsong than they did just 25 years ago. These soundscapes have lessened in both volume and variation due to declining bird population numbers and the loss of biodiversity. Basically, there are fewer birds singing in the trees, and those that remain come from a narrower range of species.
The researchers, based at the University of East Anglia in the UK, studied birdsong with data from over 200,000 locations in North America and Europe. They also used recordings of over 1,000 wild bird species and reconstructed how the sites would have sounded in years past, based on bird population figures over time.
"We found a widespread decline in the acoustic diversity and intensity of natural soundscapes, driven by changes in the composition of bird communities," said Dr Simon Butler, of the University of East Anglia's School of Biological Sciences.
These results are perhaps not entirely surprising, considering Birdlife International's recent announcement that a third of bird species in Europe are in decline. Just as troubling is the fact that around 20% of European bird species are in danger of extinction.
The beauty and benefits of birdsong:
- Not only are declining bird numbers and variety a problem for ecosystems, but the deterioration in birdsong could also have a negative impact on how humans connect with the natural world.
- The researchers warned that this deterioration could ultimately affect our physical and psychological health, as the diminished birdsong could lessen people's engagement with nature.
- Post-doctoral researcher Catriona Morrison summed up the significance of the research, explaining that "as we collectively become less aware of our natural surroundings, we also start to notice or care less about their deterioration. Studies like ours aim to heighten awareness of these losses in a tangible, relatable way and demonstrate their potential impact on human well-being.”