The relentless roar of natural gas compressors influences the numbers of insects and spiders nearby, triggering decreases in many types of arthropods sensitive to sounds and vibrations, a collaborative Florida Museum of Natural History study shows.
Populations of grasshoppers, froghoppers, velvet ants, wolf spiders and cave, camel and spider crickets dropped significantly in areas near gas compressors, while leafhopper numbers rose.
These shifts in arthropod communities could set off a cascade of larger-scale ecological consequences, as insects and spiders play fundamental roles in food webs, pollination, decomposition and overall ecological health, said study co-author Akito Kawahara, assistant professor and curator at the museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida.
“Noise pollution affects all kinds of animals, and insects are no exception,” Kawahara said. “They might be small, but they’re the dominant animals on the planet in terms of numbers. What happens to them affects whole ecosystems.”
The study joins a growing body of research on how artificial noise alters animal behavior and disrupts ecosystems and is the first to examine noise pollution’s effects on arthropod distribution and community diversity.
Gas compressors, which can range from minivan- to warehouse-sized, extract and move natural gas along a pipeline, emitting intense, low-frequency noise. Previous studies have shown noise pollution from compressors changes the activity levels and distribution of bats and birds, key predators of insects and spiders.
Kawahara joined a multi-institutional research group, led by the study’s first author Jessie Bunckley and principal investigator Jesse Barber of Boise State University, to test how the landscape-scale noise produced by gas compressors affects arthropod communities, many of which rely on sound and vibrations to find food, meet a mate, communicate and detect predators.
The research team used pitfall traps…