Noise in chemical communication

June 11, 2014

Traffic noise hindering communication
Urban noise –
photo credit: joiseyshowaa via photopin cc

Communication is always constrained by noise. Imagine a finch calling for mates along a busy road during rush hour. Car noise will make it quite difficult for his fellow urban birds to hear him at all. It must be all easier in a peaceful forest, don’t you think? Perhaps not. Forests are full of birds, many of them sing, and not all in the same language. To get the picture, go to a crowded pub or an Italian café (a real one, those with italians;) ). Noise is not necessarily man made pollution, much of what we’d describe as noise in communication is indeed of biological origin. And it’s not restricted to acoustics – there’s noise in any kind of communication, from visual signalling to chemical cues.

Henrik Brumm edited a noise volume for Springer’s Principles of Animal Communication, and Patrizia d’Ettorre, Tristram Wyatt and me contributed a chapter on chemical communication. Unlike in other modalities (most studies on noise deal with acoustic communication), chemical noise has hardly been treated as a phenomenon worth to explicitly investigate. What we could thus mostly do was to collect studies that demonstrate effects which in some way or another are implying noise in communication systems (and how animals deal with it). It has now been a while since the final draft and I came across a few more studies that would deserve their place in a summary of noise in chemical communication, and of course we might have missed some interesting and important phenomena as well. If you’re interested in the topic or think something is missing, please contact me!

Nehring, V., Wyatt, T. D., & d’Ettorre, P. (2013): Noise in chemical communication. In H. Brumm (Ed.), Animal Communication and Noise (pp. 373–405). New York: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-41494-7_13