Sound and Light Ecology Team

About Us

We are a team of scientists and educators, working together to understand the effects of noise and light pollution on ecological processes, inform the public about the importance of sound and light and its impact on wildlife and people, and preserve the natural sounds and night skies of the world. Our research team was formed in 2007 as a collaboration between the Natural Sounds & Night Skies Division of the National Park Service and the Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology and Biology departments at Colorado State University. We are primarily based on the campus of Colorado State University and at the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate office of the National Park Service in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Primary research objectives:

Our overarching research goal is to further our understanding of how noise and light pollution affect ecological processes, focused on wildlife. Our research backgrounds are quite diverse and this is reflected in the multiple approaches we take to study these sources of pollution. Our current areas of research include:

Modeling sound propagation through landscapes

We are studying the impacts of noise from different sources, such as recreational activities, traffic, and energy development, as well as simulating how that noise spreads through a landscape using computer models. To that end, we are updating and validating the computer models SPreAD-GIS and NMSim. We aim to use these updated tools to understand the effects of noise on wildlife, especially species of conservation concern.

Understanding soundscapes at a continental scale

Using hundreds of thousands of hours of NPS audio recordings and cutting-edge spatial modeling techniques, we are predicting the impact of human-caused noise across the entire United States. By predicting noise levels across the country, we are able to summarize noise pollution in even the most remote locations, including wilderness areas or critical habitat for sensitive species. Understanding noise levels at a large-scale brings us one step closer to managing noise pollution in protected natural areas.

Investigating the effects of anthropogenic noise on wildlife

We are exploring the ways that anthropogenic noise affects the behavior of free-ranging prairie dogs, a keystone species in North American prairie ecosystems. Our goal is to determine whether noise is perceived as a form of predation risk, elicits an increase in antipredator behavior, distracts animals from detecting predators, and masks the sounds of predators and conspecific vocalizations.

We are also examining how intense, acute noise events affect bird and bat communities in parks. In busier national parks, wildlife communities are already subjected to daily disruption by human recreation. Moreover, occasional noisy events, such as fireworks or motorcycle rallies, may exacerbate threats on already stressed communities of animals. We are examining the response of bird and bat communities in Devil’s Tower National Monument to the Sturgis motorcycle rally, one of the largest motorcycle rallies that comes through the park each year.

Energy development and soundscape ecology

We are conducting a study investigating the effects of peaks and lows of energy development on soundscapes and wildlife communities in northwestern Colorado. The project employs acoustic monitors to record natural and anthropogenic sounds in a landscape that historically underwent intensive energy development. Concurrently, remote-triggered cameras and GPS telemetry are monitoring wildlife activity, allowing for evaluation of animal responses to noises generated by energy infrastructure, including drilling pads and roads. More recently, development and associated human activity have declined dramatically with low oil prices. We are examining how changes in the intensity of human activity affect soundscapes and animal communities as a whole.

Education and outreach:

We are open to collaborations with others to establish impactful education and outreach programs and events. Several members of our team have interests and experience in developing and managing outreach programs and events, and we are currently working on establishing others for the future. Feel free to contact us with your ideas!

Below are links to programs and events in which we have participated and/or led or are currently working on:

Natural sound recordings:

A soundscape consists of all of the natural sounds made by living organisms (e.g., birds, amphibians, insects) and non-living elements and processes (e.g., rain, thunder, wind) that are perceived by humans. A soundscape may also include non-natural sounds (i.e. human-caused noise). The world is experiencing unprecedented changes due to climate change, habitat transformation, and human population growth, which are in turn significantly altering soundscapes around the globe. Especially alarming is the rapidly increasing ratio of human-caused noise to natural sounds and the loss of natural quiet. In response, we are working to collect recordings of natural sounds and soundscapes in order to answer questions about how natural soundscapes operate, provide a resource for others interested in soundscape research and community outreach, and share their intrinsic beauty with the world. We strive to manage widespread human-caused noise so that our recordings don't become acoustic fossils.

One of our members, Dr. Jacob Job, is building a library of natural sounds from around the country and world as part of his work with our team. Most of his work is conducted in Rocky Mountain National Park, in an effort to create an extensive bird song library, as well as a collection of natural soundscape recordings.

Check out our 'Sounds of the Parks' page to hear our recordings!

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