BERLIN: Traffic noise may accelerate ageing and reduce the lifespan of birds, a study has found.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany and North Dakota State University in the US investigated the effect of traffic noise on the telomere length of offspring Zebra finches.
Telomeres are caps on the ends of chromosomes that protect genes from damage. Shortening of telomeres indicates accelerated biological ageing.
Scientists found that zebra finches that were exposed to traffic noise after they had left the nest had shorter telomeres at 120 days of age than Zebra finches that were exposed to noise until 18 days post-hatch (before they had left the nest) and whose parents were exposed to traffic noise during courtship, egg-laying, and nesting.
Finches exposed to noise after leaving the nest also had shorter telomeres than those which had not been exposed to traffic noise at all.
"Our study suggests that urban noise alone, independent from the many other aspects of city life, such as light pollution or chemical pollution, is associated with increased telomere loss and may contribute to ageing in Zebra finches," said Adriana Dorado-Correa, corresponding author of the study published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.
"Our study is a first step towards identifying the causal mechanisms that may account for differences in lifespan observed between birds living in urban or rural environments," said Dorado-Correa.
"Cellular ageing as a result of urban stressors is something that may not have a very visible impact, but our study indicates that although birds may seem to be adapting to life in noisy cities, they may actually be ageing faster," said Sue Anne Zollinger, from Max Planck Institute.
As only Zebra finches exposed to noise after leaving the nest had shorter telomeres, researchers suggest that the time between 18 and 120 days after hatching is a critical period during which birds are more affected by noise.
This period of time is also when Zebra finches begin song learning, which may make them more sensitive to noise.
By contrast, Zebra finches may be less sensitive to noise while still in the nest, and parent birds may be able to make behavioural changes to protect offspring from the negative effects of noise exposure.
The traffic noise used in the study consisted of recordings of street traffic which mimicked typical urban noise patterns.
The researchers collected blood samples for each offspring bird at 21 and 120 days post-hatch to measure telomere length and rate of telomere loss.