You can almost hear the law of unintended consequences at work among the flora and fauna of northwestern New Mexico.
Thousands of natural gas wells dot the landscape there, along with the compressors that get the gaseous fuel ready to travel through pipelines. The compressor rumble is constant, and seems to be attracting black-chinned hummingbirds, according to a new experiment. The findings appeared this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Researchers set up test flower beds and tracked bird landings. They found that the hummingbirds were five times more likely to visit noisy areas. Why? Perhaps because the western scrub jay tends to avoid noise. And western scrub jays eat baby hummingbirds. The situation is good for wildflowers that are pollinated by the hummingbirds.
But the absence of jays seems to be bad for other plants. For example, the pinon pine relies on scrub jays to spread its seeds. As a result, pine seedlings were four times less abundant at noisy sites than quiet ones.
Pinon seedlings take decades to become pinon pines, a critical habitat for hundreds of species in the western U.S. So the forest of the future may never take root. Darn noisy neighbors.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]