Soundscapes on Wild About Utah

Feb 9, 2018

Imagine yourself in your favorite place outside.  What sounds do you expect to hear?  The sound of water rushing over rocks? Crickets chirping? The wind softly blowing through the trees?  These are some of the natural sounds you might expect to hear, but it might not always work out that way.  

Recreation areas are often filled with anthropogenic noises like vehicles, people talking, music playing, machinery, and more. 

Soundscapes, or the acoustic environment, are not often thought of as a natural resource, but are actually an important part of the environment.  A common reason people go to nature is for peace and quiet.  Quiet is considered a valuable resource. 

Humans have grown accustomed to a constant background of noise, but it is not always good.  Escaping to nature can potentially provide relief from noise pollution, but natural soundscapes are becoming less and less common. 

Noise pollution significantly impacts human health.  Physical and mental impacts can include hearing disorders, sleep disruption, and even interruptions in the cardiovascular and endocrine systems.  Sound is more important than you might realize.  

Soundscapes may be important to humans, but they are arguably even more important for wildlife.  Many animals depend on hearing for warning them of danger, communicating with other animals, and locating prey.  Birds and other animals can hear noises from very far away, and noise interference can disrupt them easily.  Behavioral responses may include leaving an area for a brief time or leaving an area for good. 

Through evolution, some animals have lost sight, because it was not a necessary trait in some situations.  Up to this point, there has been no animal discovered that has lost its hearing through evolution.  This illustrates how vital the acoustic environment is to wildlife and ecosystem health. 

Think of a Barn Owl.  Hunting in the dark, they rely on the tiniest rustle to lead them to their prey.  Their sense of hearing is fine-tuned and adapted specially for this purpose.  One ear hole is slightly higher than the other, which allows them to perceive depth through hearing. 

Also, one ear hole can hear sounds below them on the ground, and the other can hear the sounds in the air.  Just by listening, an owl can locate a mouse far below it on the ground.  Noise pollution would make it nearly impossible for owls to hunt. 

Owls are just one example of noise pollution negatively effecting wildlife.  As soundscapes are disturbed, wildlife will be displaced or even die.  Public land managers now have the challenge of managing soundscapes. This is a difficult, but soundscapes are important for humans recreating, wildlife, and whole ecosystems.   

As William Shakespeare said, “The earth has music for those who listen.”