Noise Pollution in National Parks: Impacts on The Environment and Human Health

As mentioned in my previous post, anthropogenic noise is an increasingly pervasive threat in national parks, and this is indeed a cause for concern as national parks are not only refuges of natural ecosystems, but also important sanctuaries for people to take some time out to relax and revitalise in the presence of nature. In this post, I will be sharing more about how noise pollution in national parks impacts the wildlife present in them, as well as the psychological well-being of park visitors who frequent them.

Impacts of noise pollution on wildlife and the environment
Animals rely heavily on their ability to hear the subtle sounds of nature — the movement of predators, the trickle of a stream. Those sounds may be masked by noise pollution, which puts wild creatures at risk (Kaplan, 2017). Noise from human activity is also frightening and distracting; it can change animals’ behaviour with consequences for the entire ecosystem. According to a study by Chan and Blumstein (2011), anthropogenic noise may draw attention and thus distract animals. This is because animals generally respond to a very narrow range of stimuli as attention filters out irrelevant information. As a result, it leaves them less able to attend to a stimulus important for survival or reproductive success. This is reflected in an experiment which shows how a continuous white noise impaired the ability of Norway rats to perform a visual discrimination task, which implies that anthropogenic stimuli may broadly influence an animal’s performance visual tasks, even if the stimuli are not visual. Rising noise levels may also result in direct negative fitness consequences for avians, as studies have shown that many bird species are less abundant near highways, due to reduced reproductive success in noisy territories (Slabbekoorn and Ripmeester, 2008).

A red fox listening for prey under the snow in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Neal Herbert/NPS

It is also worth to note that attentional capabilities are taxonomically widespread, which means that noise pollution may affect a wide group of species, as illustrated in the image below. Kunc and Schmidt (2019) thereby concluded that anthropogenic noise must be considered as a serious form of environmental change and pollution, as it affects all kinds of animal species. Therefore, given the ample empirical evidence, legislative bodies should develop a robust legal framework to protect species from increasing anthropogenic noise effectively (Kunc and Schmidt, 2019)

Effects of anthropogenic noise on taxonomic groups. Graphics taken from Kunc and Schmidt (2019)

Anthropogenic noise may affect plants, too, mainly due to the fact that some plants rely heavily on animals to pollinate and spread their seeds. For instance, a research conducted by Francis et al. (2012) found that western-scrub jays avoided noisy areas and therefore stopped contributing to the pollination of the piñon pine tree seeds. As a result, the seeds were consumed by mice, and the survival of the piñon pine tree species may be interfered. This shows that even though noise pollution affects certain animal species directly in terms of their behaviour, there may be cascading effects throughout the ecosystem, and large-scale changes may occur due to the responses of some important species (Sohn, 2012).

Impacts of noise pollution on human health
Noise pollution in National Parks may also affect our health too. According to recreation researchers, a primary reason for visiting a national park is to escape the stressors found in urban areas. This is due to the restorative value of being in nature — appreciating the expanse of a scenic vista and enjoying the tranquillity of natural sounds (Mace, Bell and Loomis, 2004). However, the intrusion of noise pollution into preserved natural areas are getting more common. This is a huge concern, as psychological research has shown that visitors to natural settings are sensitive to low levels of human-caused noise, which detracts from the enjoyment of the experience. Negative experiences may then lead to certain psychological needs remaining unfulfilled, especially when considering the primary reasons for visiting national parks, thus leading to negative long-term consequences for visitors. Another study by Iglesias Merchan, Diaz-Balteiro and Soliño (2014) found that human-voice pollution are also easily visible by receivers, such as loud talking, which may detract from the visitor experience as well.

In the next blog post, we will take a look at some of the measures that have been taken to reduce the pervasive problem of noise pollution in national parks.

Till next time,


Chan, A. and Blumstein, D., 2011. Attention, noise, and implications for wildlife conservation and management. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 131(1-2), pp.1-7.

Francis, C., Kleist, N., Ortega, C. and Cruz, A., 2012. Noise pollution alters ecological services: enhanced pollination and disrupted seed dispersal. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1739), pp.2727-2735.

Iglesias Merchan, C., Diaz-Balteiro, L. and Soliño, M., 2014. Noise pollution in national parks: Soundscape and economic valuation. Landscape and Urban Planning, 123, pp.1-9.

Kaplan, S., 2017. Human Noise Pollution Is Everywhere, Even In The National Parks. [online] The Washington Post. Available at: <>

Kunc, H. and Schmidt, R., 2019. The Effects Of Anthropogenic Noise On Animals: A Meta-Analysis. Biology Letters.

Mace, B., Bell, P. and Loomis, R., 2004. Visibility and Natural Quiet in National Parks and Wilderness Areas. Environment and Behavior, 36(1), pp.5-31.

Slabbekoorn, H. and Ripmeester, E., 2008. Birdsong and anthropogenic noise: implications and applications for conservation. Molecular Ecology, 17(1), pp.72-83.

Sohn, E., 2012. Noise Pollution Affects Plants, Too. [online] NBC News. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 September 2020].

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