October 1, 2017.
Many animals rely on the acoustical environment for functions spanning mate attraction, navigation and predator and prey detection. However, recent research suggests that the context of the acoustic environment can greatly influence the propagation and reception of acoustic signals and cues, potentially interfering with the ability of animals to perceive important environmental cues. Here, we sought to determine whether natural sounds influence vigilance and predator detection in the California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi). In a manipulative field experiment, we measured squirrel vigilance behavior under three conditions: playback of river rapid noise, playback of cicada chorus noise and a control, unmanipulated sound treatment. Under each condition, we also measured squirrel flight initiation distance (FID), defined as the distance at which an animal flees from an approaching threat. This behavior was in response to an approaching robotic coyote, which simulated a common predator in our study area. Our study is poised to not only determine whether natural sounds influence key behaviors in a common mammal, but will provide needed information on whether natural sounds and human-made sounds cause similar perceptual limitations and behavioral responses in acoustically-oriented animals. For example, California ground squirrels are known to increase vigilance in the presence of anthropogenic noise, but it has yet to be determined how natural noises, with differing frequencies and power, affect behavior. We hope this study will shed light on the differences between these conditions.
Clinton D. Francis
California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly SLO)
The 2017 STEM Teacher and Researcher Program and this project have been made possible through support from Chevron (www.chevron.com), the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (www.marinesanctuary.org), the National Science Foundation (www.nsf.gov) and the California State University Office of the Chancellor, in partnership with the California State University of San Luis Obispo.