As far as plants and animals are concerned, it might as well be the devil’s music.
Because, as a new study suggests, heavy metal can be hell on an ecosystem.
Scientists have long suspected that the racket humans make — politely referred to by scientists as anthropogenic sound — may harm animals.
In particular, these sounds could mess with their ability to find food, a mate, or even to detect lurking predators. Not to mention the ripple effect that begins with one affected animal and spreads to many more.
But for this study, biologists at Mississippi State University went beyond the animal kingdom to gauge the impact of anthropogenic sound on plants, too — and how they all interacted in the food web under the influence of noise.
In all, the researchers looked at ladybugs, soybean aphids and soybean plants because together they represent a small but important food web. The subjects were exposed to various sounds in isolated containers, and then together as an ecosystem.
Then scientists really brought the noise. The critters and plants were assailed with urban sounds — sirens, cars, construction crews — as well as different genres of music.
Among them? AC/DC’s classic “Back in Black” — an iconic album featuring raging riffs, stomping percussion and hell-screeching vocals.
And plants and animals banged their heads out of sheer despair. While alone in containers, the music had no discernible effect on subjects. But they sang a very different tune when they were brought together.
When bombarded with AC/DC for 18-hour stretches, ladybugs ate fewer aphids — in fact, their predatory skills declined sharply. That led to a buildup of aphids. And that bug surplus contributed to lean, sickly plants.
It seemed AC/DC put this little biosphere on a highway to hell. Tests showed that the album was on par with construction equipment and sirens when it came to negatively impacting the food web.
On the other hand, the plants and animals were just hunky-dory with country music.
So if AC/DC can shake a tiny ecosystem all night long — and leave it with a hangover that isn’t easy to recover from — imagine the havoc our ever-increasing urban noises may be wreaking.
Lead author Brandon Barton — who also happens to be a lifelong AC/DC fan — hailed the results as evidence of the “cascading” nature of sound pollution on ecosystems. And it could all start with one bugged-out ladybug not being able or willing to consume an aphid.
“We could be disrupting biological control,” Barton told Newsweek.
Indeed, ladybugs are the chief consumers of aphids, which are an invasive, plant-damaging species.
What happens when natural controls, like ladybugs, quit? In a word, Roundup. Or any agrochemicals that farmers will have to rely on to protect their crops as nature slacks.
And the potential health consequences of an over-reliance on fertilizers and pesticides is all-too well documented. There’s also the cost of all that spraying, which in turn may raise food prices.
“When that farmer sprays chemicals, that costs money, and that cost gets transferred to the consumer,” Barton explained to Newsweek. “Meanwhile, ladybugs do it for free.”
And they’ll keep doing it for free, as long as we dial down the devil music and enjoy our Kenny Rogers responsibly.