Noise exposure is considered a threat to human health, causing not only annoyance or hearing impairment but also hypertension and diabetes. Like humans, many animals do hear and can be affected by noise. Although there is sufficient scientific evidence that noise exposure can threaten biodiversity, this environmental risk has only recently gained attention among resource managers and policy makers.
Because sound travels faster and over longer distances in water than in air, underwater sounds emitted by boat engines, sonars, pile drivers, seismic testing or windfarms can be particularly problematic for marine organisms. Most of our knowledge concerning the impact of underwater noise pollution (UNP) for wildlife is restricted to sea mammals and fish, and typically includes communication signal modifications and decreases in site occupancy at noisy locations. However, responses to noise pollution can be less obvious, especially considering that less motile animals such as most invertebrates cannot flee away from the disturbance and can be exposed to UNP over long periods of time. As more attention and resources are invested in understanding the full ecological and economic impacts of UNP, it has become necessary to explore the many possible risks associated with noise exposure.
In particular, stress responses triggered by human-induced environmental changes are expected to cause disease by intensifying the effects of parasites. In accord to this, UNP is predicted to alter the health of marine invertebrates in three ways: (1) stressed hosts are typically in poor condition and may be more susceptible to infections; (2) stress may increase the impact of parasitism on hosts; (3) the combined effects of stress and parasitism may affect species interactions, e.g. by increasing predation on infected/weakened hosts. Given that parasites are also exposed to the disturbance, UNP could influence parasite traits as well, including infectivity and survival.
The “SICK OF NOISE” project is a H2020 funded project (Marie Skłodowska Curie Action Individual Fellowship, GA n°750429) that will assess the effects of UNP on parasitism and predatory interactions of key marine invertebrates: the blue mussel Mytilus edulis and the shore crab Carcinus maenas. By the use of multidisciplinary experimental approaches, this project aims to (1) identify behavioural and physiological stress responses of molluscs and crustaceans exposed to UNP, (2) investigate for the first time connections between UNP and parasitic disease, and (3) conduct a pioneer work on the influence of UNP on parasite-mediated species interactions.
From July 2018, I will be based at the Dutch Royal Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) in the Ecological Parasitology Group led by Dr. David W. T. Thieltges. To successfully conduct this postdoctoral research, I will rely on collaborations with other top-ranked researchers, namely Dr. Slaabekoorn (University of Leiden), Dr. Wegner (Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar Research) and Dr. Whitbaard (NIOZ).
Collecting periwinkles from the Wadden Sea (copyrights: James Campbell)