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Singing in a silent spring: Birds respond to a half-century soundscape reversion during the COVID-19 shutdown

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Science  24 Sep 2020:
eabd5777
DOI: 10.1126/science.abd5777

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Abstract

Actions taken to control the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic have conspicuously reduced motor vehicle traffic, potentially alleviating auditory pressures on animals that rely on sound for survival and reproduction. Here we evaluate whether a common songbird responsively exploited newly emptied acoustic space by comparing soundscapes and songs across the San Francisco Bay Area prior to and during the recent statewide shutdown. We show that noise levels in urban areas were dramatically lower during the shutdown, characteristic of traffic in the mid-1950s. We also show that birds responded by producing higher performance songs at lower amplitudes, effectively maximizing communication distance and salience. These findings illustrate that behavioral traits can change rapidly in response to newly favorable conditions, indicating an inherent resilience to long-standing anthropogenic pressures like noise pollution.

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