© 2015 The Author(s).
In a consistently urbanizing world, anthropogenic noise has become almost omnipresent, and there are increasing evidence that high noise levels can have major impacts on wildlife. While the effects of anthropogenic noise exposure on adult animals have been widely studied, surprisingly, there has been little consideration of the effects of noise pollution on developing organisms. Yet, environmental conditions experienced in early life can have dramatic lifelong consequences for fitness. Here, we experimentally manipulated the acoustic environment of free-living house sparrows (Passer domesticus) breeding in nest boxes. We focused on the impact of such disturbance on nestlings' telomere length and fledging success, as telomeres (the protective ends of chromosomes) appear to be a promising predictor of longevity. We showed that despite the absence of any obvious immediate consequences (growth and fledging success), nestlings reared under traffic noise exposure exhibited reduced telomere lengths compared with their unexposed neighbours. Although the mechanisms responsible for this effect remain to be determined, our results provide the first experimental evidence that noise alone can affect a wild vertebrate's early-life telomere length. This suggests that noise exposure may entail important costs for developing organisms.