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  • Writer's pictureMarika

Sensory Pollution with Dr. Brett Seymoure and Dr. Jennifer Phillips 2/6

In this second episode of the Anthropogenic Change Series, we've had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Brett Seymoure, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, and Dr. Jennifer Phillips, an assistant professor at Washington State University. Together, they shed light on how animals are affected by human-made changes to their sensory environments, specifically focusing on light and sound pollution.

Dr. Phillips is smiling and posing for a head shot with a green natural background wearing a dark shirt.
Dr. Jennifer Phillips


A Closer Look at Sensory Pollution

The conversation kicked off with Dr. Seymoure discussing his research on the effects of natural and artificial light on animal behavior, focusing on arthropods like insects and spiders. Dr. Phillips then shared her insights into how sensory pollutants, particularly noise and light, impact bird behavior. Both researchers emphasized the importance of understanding these interactions to mitigate the negative effects human activity has on wildlife.


Everyday Lights and Their Impact

Common sources of light pollution, such as porch and Christmas lights can be a problem. Dr. Seymoure explained that while one might think their individual light source is inconsequential, it can significantly impact the local ecosystem. For instance, porch lights can alter the local community of insects, with cascading effects up the food web. This simple yet compelling example highlights the broader issue of sensory pollution and its pervasive impact on wildlife.


Legislation and Efforts to Protect Wildlife

The conversation also touched on the efforts to legislate against sensory pollution. Unfortunately, the protection for insects is minimal, with most legislation aimed at safeguarding human interests, such as astronomy. However, there's hope in the form of initiatives like the Audubon Society's Lights Out program, which aims to mitigate bird fatalities during migration periods by encouraging cities to turn off lights in skyscrapers and other tall buildings.


Understanding the Effects of Light Wavelengths

An intriguing part of the discussion was the effect different wavelengths of light have on wildlife. While it's tempting to think there could be a one-size-fits-all solution in terms of light color, the immense biodiversity means that all wavelengths of light are important. Dr. Seymoure pointed out that while amber or red lights are less disruptive to many species, they can have negative impacts on others, like certain beetle species.




Dr. Seymoure is standing in the woods on a sunny day holding something to his left shoulder.
Dr. Brett Seymoure

Spider Personalities and Urban Wildlife

The dialogue took a fascinating turn when exploring "spider personalities" or behavioral syndromes within species. Dr. Seymoure shared that these behavioral traits, such as boldness or aggressiveness, could vary significantly among individuals of the same species. The ongoing research aims to understand how these traits are influenced by factors like light pollution, adding another layer to the complex interaction between wildlife and human activity.


The Takeaway: A Delicate Balance

Both Dr. Seymoure and Dr. Phillips underscored a crucial message: animals are doing their best to adapt to a rapidly changing environment, one increasingly marked by human-induced sensory pollution. As stewards of the planet, it's our responsibility to recognize and mitigate our impact, ensuring that wildlife can thrive alongside us. Whether it's choosing the right wavelength for outdoor lighting or supporting legislation that protects wildlife from sensory pollution, every action counts.

In wrapping up this enlightening conversation, we're reminded of the intricate connections that bind us to the natural world. By understanding the deal with animals and the challenges they face in an ever-changing world, we can work toward solutions that benefit us all. Let's continue to explore, learn, and protect the incredible life that shares this planet with us in the next episode... Earth, Wind, and Water: Conflict and Coexistence


Show Notes

Episode 2 of Series 10: The Anthropogenic Change Transcript


In this episode we delve into how sensory pollution, particularly artificial light, affects wildlife behavior, focusing on insects, spiders, birds, and predator-prey interactions. We discuss the consequences of light pollution on ecosystems, research efforts, and strategies for mitigating the effects through legislation and urban planning.


Guests: Dr. Brett Seymour, an associate professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, his research interests include how animals interact with their visual environment and how light pollution disrupts natural behaviors, physiology and ecosystem services in arthropods and their predators!


Dr. Jennifer Phillips is an assistant professor at Washington State University. Jenny's research focuses on animal behavior communication and the effects of human activity on wildlife, especially passerine birds, specifically, she's interested in how functional traits are affected by landscapes and sensory pollution, and whether changes in these traits lead to population and community level ecological consequences.



(This blog post was based on an AI generated script and edited by me for accuracy and additional information)


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