Science in Seconds: Meet Rindy Anderson, Ph.D.


Photograph by Rindy Anderson, Ph.D.

Science in Seconds: Meet Rindy Anderson, Ph.D.

Do Noisy People Impact Songbirds?

Male zebra finches — a small songbird — use their brightly colored red beaks to attract mates. But, results from a new study reveal that for birds living in urban environments, noise from people can dull their colors, said Rindy C. Anderson, Ph.D., associate professor in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.

Anderson, also a member of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute and director of the Behavioral Ecology and Bioacoustics Laboratory, studies the form and function of communication signals in birds, as well as how learning and memory play a role in attracting mates.

For this study, Anderson and her students conducted two separate experiments to determine the effects of human noise on cognition, or the bird’s ability to learn to solve problems, beak color and growth. Noise pollution due to human activity is a growing concern for wildlife in urban environments, she said.

Results of the research, published in the journal Acta Ethologica, showed that urban noises caused the birds to take longer to learn a new feeding behavior and to learn an association-learning task. While urban noise exposure during development did not affect growth rate or adult body size, males developed less bright beak coloration, and females developed beaks with brighter orange coloration, respectively, than untreated birds.

Why exactly these changes happened remains unclear, Anderson said, though it’s possible it’s related to stress and stress hormones, such as increased corticosterone levels.

“Further research should investigate the effects of beak ornamentation on social hierarchies and mate selection in urban environments, and test whether social interaction in noisy environments can ameliorate negative effects from urban noise on traits such as problem-solving and fear of novelty,” Anderson said.

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