Human Flower Project
The Pollination Racket
A new study of birds finds that human noise is tough on pines but a boon to skyrocket flowers.
Will earplugs be the next trendy gardening accessory, this year’s Crocs?
New research by Clinton D. Francis and his colleagues suggest that in some environments anyway, noise may actually improve flower pollination. It’s a finding that will much dismay those of us who think of puttering outside as a respite from racket.
Francis and his team examined the effects of noise on plant pollination by setting up experimental stations at two spots within the Rattlesnake Canyon Wildlife Area in northwestern New Mexico. One location was relatively quiet, but the other was adjacent to a natural gas well operation, with big machinery and compressors at work around the clock.
Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) at Scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) in the Davis Mountains of Texas
Photo: Maryann Eastman
They then monitored the activity of thirty bird species in each area. They found that the western scrub jay, which is a major “planter” of pinyon pine seed, vanished near the gas wells but that black chinned hummingbirds, which pollinate the region’s scarlet gilia flowers, abounded. The scientists hypothesized that the jays, and other larger birds, communicate at lower frequencies. Their songs “overlap” with the din of the machinery and “are more likely to be drowned out.”
In contrast, the hummingbirds were especially busy at flowers closer to the noise, notably the small red trumpets of Ipomopsis aggregata. “In the long run, it is possible that higher populations of scarlet gilia plants will occur at noisy locations,” the researchers concluded. They reasoned that the hummingbirds “seek out noisy areas to avoid the jays, which eat their eggs and even their nestlings.”
So over time, noise may be bad for trees but actually good for flowers (if not flower gardeners).
Meanwhile, we’re happy to report there are jays AND hummingbirds here. We may be sitting on a decibel sweet-spot (though if the neighbor’s house alarm explodes one more time today, the jays may be headed over to the Bouldin neighborhood and we’ll be inclined to follow them).