Artificial lights and seabirds: is light pollution a threat for the threatened Balearic petrels?

Abstract

Petrels are among the most threatened group of birds. On top of facing predation by introduced mammals and incidental bycatch, these seabirds have to deal with an emerging threat, light pollution, which is increasing globally. Fledglings are disoriented and attracted to artificial lights in their maiden night flights from their nests to the sea. Once grounded, they are exposed to multiple threats leading to high mortality. We report on numbers of three petrel species (Balearic shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus, Scopoli’s shearwater Calonectris diomedea, and European storm-petrel Hydrobates pelagicus) rescued on the Balearic Islands, Mediterranean Sea, in the period 1999–2013. We assessed the proportion of grounded fledglings in the population and colonies impact based on radiance levels measured from a nocturnal satellite image. We also calculated the radius of light pollution impact. At least 304 fledgling birds were found stranded due to attraction to artificial lights, fatally affecting 8.5 % of them. The proportion of grounded fledglings ranged between 0.13 and 0.56 % of the fledglings produced annually. The body mass of Balearic and Scopoli’s shearwater fledglings decreased with rescue date. Light-induced mortality increased during the fledging period for Scopoli’s shearwaters. Birds were rescued at a mean distance of 4833 m from the nearest colony, and between 30 and 47 % of colonies were exposed to light-polluted areas. Although impact seems to be low for all species, urban development and, consequently, the increase in light pollution in the proximity of the colonies should be taken into account to reduce as much as possible this emerging source of mortality.

Zusammenfassung

Künstliches Licht und Seevögel: Stellt Lichtverschmutzung eine Bedrohung für gefährdete Sturmvögel auf den Balearen dar?Sturmvögel gehören zu den am stärksten gefährdeten Vogelgruppen. Diese Seevögel sind nicht nur der Prädation durch eingeführte Säugetiere ausgesetzt und verenden in Fischereinetzen als unbeabsichtigter Beifang, sondern sie müssen nun auch noch mit einer weiteren Bedrohung fertig werden, die weltweit zunimmt – Lichtverschmutzung. Auf ihren nächtlichen Jungfernflügen vom Nest zur See sind die Flügglinge desorientiert und werden von künstlichem Licht angezogen. Sobald sie zu Boden gegangen sind, sind sie vielfachen Gefahren ausgesetzt, die zu hoher Mortalität führen. Wir berichten, wie viele Individuen dreier Sturmvogelarten (Balearensturmtaucher Puffinus mauretanicus, Sepiasturmtaucher Calonectris diomedea und Sturmschwalbe Hydrobates pelagicus) auf den Balearischen Inseln im Mittelmeer von 1999 bis 2013 gerettet wurden. Wir haben den Anteil der zu Boden gegangenen Flügglinge in der Population und die Folgen der Helligkeit in den Kolonien (basierend auf einem nächtlichen Satellitenbild) abgeschätzt. Außerdem haben wir den Radius der Lichtverschmutzung berechnet. Mindestens 304 Flügglinge wurden gefunden, die von künstlichem Licht angezogen gestrandet waren; 8,5 % davon tot. Der Anteil zu Boden gegangener Flügglinge lag zwischen 0,13 und 0,56 % der jährlich produzierten Flügglinge. Die Köpermasse der Flügglinge von Balearen- und Sepiasturmtaucher war umso niedriger, je später diese gerettet wurden. Lichtinduzierte Mortalität nahm für Sepiasturmtaucher während der Ausfliegephase zu. Die Vögel wurden in einer mittleren Entfernung von 4833 m zur nächsten Kolonie gerettet, und 30 bis 47 % der Kolonien waren Lichtverschmutzung ausgesetzt. Obwohl die Auswirkungen für alle Arten gering zu sein scheinen, sollte die urbane Entwicklung und folglich die Zunahme der Lichtverschmutzung in der Nähe der Kolonien so erfolgen, dass diese aufkommende Todesursache so weit wie möglich reduziert wird.

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Acknowledgments

We are deeply thankful to all the anonymous people who kindly helped rescue the birds, to Manolo Suárez and Raül Escandell for providing ringing data of fledglings at colonies, and to Cristòfol Mascaró and Nieves Negre for their help in the fieldwork and information gathering. We are also indebted to the personnel of the wildlife rehabilitation centres for their help and collaboration. Ana Sanz-Aguilar, Andie Filadoro and two anonymous reviewers provided interesting comments on earlier drafts. The support given by the species protection service of the counselling environment of the Balearic Islands’ Government and by a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship within the 7th European Community Framework Programme (No. 330655 FP7-PEOPLE-2012-IOF) was crucial to conduct this research.

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Correspondence to Airam Rodríguez.

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Communicated by C. Barbraud.

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Rodríguez, A., García, D., Rodríguez, B. et al. Artificial lights and seabirds: is light pollution a threat for the threatened Balearic petrels?. J Ornithol 156, 893–902 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-015-1232-3

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Keywords

  • Artificial lights
  • Attraction
  • Balearic Islands
  • Disorientation
  • Illumination
  • Light pollution
  • Mortality
  • Seabird