Traffic noise exposure alters nestling physiology and telomere attrition through direct, but not maternal, effects in a free-living bird.

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Anthropogenic impacts, such as noise pollution from transportation networks, can serve as stressors to some wildlife species. For example, increased exposure to traffic noise has been found to alter baseline and stress-induced corticosterone levels, reduce body condition and reproductive success, and increase telomere attrition in free-living birds. However, it remains unknown if alterations in nestling phenotype are due to direct or indirect effects of noise exposure. For example, indirect (maternal) effects of noise may occur if altered baseline and stress-induced corticosterone in mothers results in differential deposition of yolk steroids or other components in eggs. Noise exposure may also alter nestling corticosterone levels directly, given that nestlings cannot escape the nest during development. Here, we examined maternal versus direct effects of traffic noise exposure on baseline and stress-induced corticosterone levels, and body condition (as measured by size-corrected mass) in nestling tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). We used a two-way factorial design and partially cross-fostered eggs between nests exposed to differing levels (i.e. amplitudes) of traffic noise. For nestlings that were not cross-fostered, we also investigated the effects of traffic noise on telomere dynamics. Our results show a positive relationship between nestling baseline and stress-induced corticosterone and nestling noise exposure, but not maternal noise exposure. While we did not find a relationship between noise and body condition in nestlings, nestling baseline corticosterone was negatively associated with body condition. We also found greater telomere attrition for nestlings from nests with greater traffic noise amplitudes. These results suggest that direct, rather than maternal, effects result in potentially long-lasting consequences of noise exposure. Reduced nestling body condition and increased telomere attrition have been shown to reduce post-fledging survival in this species. Given that human transportation networks continue to expand, strategies to mitigate noise exposure on wildlife during critical periods (i.e. breeding) may be needed to maintain local population health in free-living passerines, such as tree swallows.


General and Comparative Endocrinology



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