Forest and peatland fires during the 2015 El Niño drought were amongst the worst on record in Southeast Asia. They were a major contributor of carbon emissions across the region, with the associated smoke-induced haze causing an air pollution crisis that affected millions of people. We present evidence of air pollution impacts on biodiversity. Using daily acoustic recordings in central Singapore, we monitored the dawn chorus before, during and after the haze event. We demonstrate that levels of ecological community acoustic activity dropped dramatically during the haze, and that this decline was significantly associated with levels of air pollution considered 'unhealthy' to the human population. Acoustic disruption was apparent across four common indices of soundscape activity, with only a partial recovery to pre-haze levels observed 16 weeks after the smoke had dissipated. These impacts on ecological communities were likely to be even more severe closer to the fires, where air pollution levels were reported to be 15-fold greater than those recorded in Singapore. Our results indicate that large-scale air pollution crises may have hitherto underestimated and potentially far-reaching impacts on biodiversity, especially in parts of the world prone to extensive forest fires. © 2017 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.