Human noise affects monkeys’ communication

Photo credit: Rajesh Balouria

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

Our blog readers are familiar with posts that address the impact of human-made sounds on the health and well-being of animals.  Our readers will then not be surprised to learn that noise pollution is so harmful to monkeys that they have to use scent markings to compensate for the intrusions of human-made noise.

A recent study tracked the impacts of several sources of noise, including traffic, aircraft military activity and park visitors on several groups of pied tamarins monkeys, to learn the impact these noises have on their behavior. Researchers found that the animals increased their use of scent markings as the intrusive noises increased. This indicated that their vocal sounds, which these animals use to communicate, would be less effective with added human-made noise.

We should be reminded that animals, including the monkeys in this study, communicate information such as “foraging, male attraction, predators and territorial defense” with acoustic signals. Pied tamarins make noises used for “group cohesion, intergroup communication and to make their territory.” These long calls are very important to the lives of pied tamarins and human encroachment on their territory is making it difficult for these monkeys to rely on these calls. Thus, the greater dependence on scents. 

As we explore ways to reduce noise pollution because of its harmful impact on the mental and physical health of humans, we also need to be cognizant of the impact our noise has on others species so that we can explore ways to reduce the overall impact of our noises on their lives.

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