A hearty congratulations are in order for Preserve Research Associate, Shawn Smith! Shawn is a PhD candidate at George Mason University’s environmental science and policy program, and recently won best student speed talk for his presentation for the Virginia chapter of The Wildlife Society. We are so proud of Shawn and the important work he is conducting, some of which happened right here at the Preserve.
His research takes a look at how anthropogenic (or human-created) noise affects communication in songbirds. While his analysis is still ongoing, he let us know that he has found evidence that birds like the Northern Cardinal are committing more “communication errors” in areas with higher levels of noise. As Shawn explained, “They don’t always hear or respond to calls when they are expected to, and sometimes they commit false alarms. This equates to us picking up our phone when it isn’t ringing or believing we heard a knock at the door when there wasn’t anyone knocking.”
This is the first experimental study of its kind and will have important conservation implications. Birds like the cardinal rely heavily on acoustic signaling for mate attraction, predator avoidance, and more. By demonstrating in the field that human noise (like from traffic on 66!) affects their success in this, Shawn is laying critical groundwork for further study and conservation practices.
Congratulations to Shawn on his recent award, and a huge thank you for his hard work and dedication to bird conservation!