Assessing the Vulnerabilities of Vertebrate Species to Light and Noise Pollution: Expert Surveys Illuminate the Impacts on Specialist Species

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Global expansion of lighting and noise pollution alters how animals receive and interpret environmental cues. However, we lack a cross-taxon understanding of how animal traits influence species vulnerability to this growing phenomenon. This knowledge is needed to improve the design and implementation of policies that mitigate or reduce sensory pollutants. We present results from an expert knowledge survey that quantified the relative influence of 21 ecological, anatomical, and physiological traits on the vulnerability of terrestrial vertebrates to elevated levels of anthropogenic lighting and noise. We aimed not only to quantify the importance of threats and the relative influence of traits as viewed by sensory and wildlife experts, but to examine knowledge gaps based on the variation in responses. Identifying traits that had less consensus can guide future research for strengthening ecologists’ and conservation biologists’ understanding of sensory abilities. Our findings, based on 280 responses of expert opinion, highlight the increasing recognition among experts that sensory pollutants are important to consider in management and conservation decisions. Participant responses show mounting threats to species with narrow niches; especially habitat specialists, nocturnal species, and those with the greatest ability to differentiate environmental visual and auditory cues. Our results call attention to the threat specialist species face and provide a generalizable understanding of which species require additional considerations when developing conservation policies and mitigation strategies in a world altered by expanding sensory pollutant footprints. We provide a step-by-step example for translating these results to on-the-ground conservation planning using two species as case studies.