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Remote sensing to map influence of light pollution on Cory’s shearwater in São Miguel Island, Azores Archipelago


Global economic and population growth increase the extent and intensity of artificial night lighting. From an ecological perspective, this is light pollution, which causes changes in reproductive physiology, migration and foraging of many species and ultimately leads to loss of biodiversity. Some seabirds are intimately linked with the light features of their environments because they are nocturnally active. We report light-induced groundings of Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) during a 2-year study (2008 and 2009) in São Miguel Island, in the Azores archipelago, and investigate the spatial correlation of locations of grounded birds with an annual composite of remotely sensed stable lights. Results indicate that 16.7% of fledglings are attracted to lights. The exposure of shearwater colonies in the study area to artificial night lighting is low overall. Four colonies account for 87% of the grounded birds. The distance each bird was found from the closest colony was best explained by the ratio of the satellite-measured light levels at the grounding spot to the light levels at the assigned colony of origin. These results demonstrate that satellite-observed nighttime lights are sufficient to assess risk to marine birds at the scale of oceanic islands and indicate their utility for monitoring the effectiveness of programs to manage lighting to reduce risk for these species and conducting global assessments of species vulnerability. To minimize the impact on Cory’s shearwater and other marine birds, we recommend measures such as reduction and control of lighting intensity near colony locations, while continuing and re-enforcing rescue campaigns.

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The nighttime lights data used for the presented research result from the DMSP archive run and maintained by NOAA’s NGDC (Boulder, CO). The SOS Cagarro data were kindly provided by the NGO “Amigos dos Açores.” The authors thank NOAA for funding work that contributed to this article. The article contents are solely the opinions of the authors and do not constitute a statement of policy, decision, or position on behalf of NOAA or the US Government.

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Correspondence to Pedro Rodrigues.

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Communicated by C. Gortázar

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Rodrigues, P., Aubrecht, C., Gil, A. et al. Remote sensing to map influence of light pollution on Cory’s shearwater in São Miguel Island, Azores Archipelago. Eur J Wildl Res 58, 147–155 (2012).

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  • Light pollution
  • Marine birds
  • Remote sensing
  • Ground collection data
  • Azores Islands