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Ladybirds eat fewer aphids under loud noise

Researchers from Mississippi State University tested how various sounds affect ecosystems and discovered ladybirds also known as lady bugs or lady beetles drastically changed their behaviour when they were subjected to noise pollution.

Assistant professor and self-confessed AC/DC fan, Brandon Barton, said the research zeroed in on ladybirds because they are one of the world's most important predators of agricultural pests such as aphids.

"We started by playing the Back in Black [AC/DC] album to lady beetles while they foraged on aphids in petri dishes," Dr Barton told ABC Rural.

"We put about 30 aphids to one lady beetle in both a silent treatment and a music treatment.

"After 16 hours we counted how many aphids were left and could see how the sound treatment influenced predation rates."

The ladybirds were exposed to artists such as AC/DC, Willie Nelson, Guns and Roses, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and also city sounds such as jackhammers and car horns.

Dr Barton said all the bands and city noises caused the ladybirds to eat less.

"We don't really know why, but it's [the noise pollution] making them eat fewer aphids," he said.

"That's a bad thing if you're a gardener, that's a bad thing if you're a farmer, and it's a bad thing just in general. We're disrupting predation."


The research was taken into the paddock, with ladybirds and aphids placed on soybean crops and once again exposed to some rock and roll.

Dr Barton said the crop trial showed that noise pollution created a domino affect in the ecosystem.

"After two weeks under the music treatment listening to Back in Black 24/7 the aphids just exploded," he said.

"Their population densities increased dramatically because those predators weren't eating the aphids.

"All of those aphids, they actually suppressed the soybean plant biomass, so AC/DC actually reduced soybean yield."


Dr Barton said at a practical level there is not much farmers can do, but as cities continued to encroach on farming land noise pollution was an obvious issue.

"I would caution people to avoid sound pollution if possible," he said.

"Maybe it's not something that a farmer can actively avoid, but it's something they should keep in the back of their minds.

Dr Barton said in isolation noise pollution was not an immediate threat to farmers.

"I don't think that noise pollution itself is going to become a huge threat for farmers and agriculture," he said.

"But when you add noise pollution in combination with warming temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, [and] slowing winds, all of these things together are probably going to have an impact on the efficiency of natural enemies, pest loads, how much pesticide must be applied and of course crop yield."

The research has been published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.


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