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Uncapped tubular poles along high-speed railway lines act as pitfall traps for cavity nesting birds

Abstract

Man-made ecosystems, such as those associated with transport infrastructure, are common worldwide, offering both opportunities and risks to wildlife. Thus, it is essential to ensure the appropriate design and monitoring of such structures to facilitate their integration into the environment. Here, we investigated the impact of uncapped tubular poles supporting the overhead wires (termed catenary) along a 19.1-km stretch of the Madrid-Levante high-speed railway line in central Spain on birds in the surrounding environment. A total of 162 bird carcasses were found in the 96 poles three and a half years after construction of the railway, showing that these poles inadvertently function as pitfall traps for birds. Repeat monitoring of a subsample of 61 poles 88 and 105 weeks later revealed a further 38 carcasses. Mortality was significantly higher at certain poles; however, no temporal or spatial pattern at the landscape scale was detected. Eight out of 10 species found dead were cavity nesters, with the Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor being the most affected species. Two species, the Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni and the Little Owl Athene noctua, are regionally, nationally and internationally protected, with several open-country species with declining trends also being detected. Given the extent of this type of infrastructure in Spain, we estimate that several thousand birds die as a result of uncapped tubular poles annually. This problem could be easily averted by the compulsory use of capped poles, which would prevent birds from falling inside, along railway lines and other similar infrastructure erected in natural environments that may have a similar impact.

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Acknowledgments

Jorge Hernández Justribó, Mª José Pérez Sobola, Diego Sánchez Serrano and safety personnel from Centro de Estudios y Experimentación of the Ministry for Public Works (CEDEX) and Ineco helped us at different stages of the fieldwork, while Laura Llorente and Arturo Morales from the Archaeozoology Laboratory at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM) identified several carcasses. Manuel Gª Sánchez-Colomer and Sarah Ruiz Arriaga from CEDEX and the staff from Adif kindly helped with project logistics. Comments by two anonymous referees improved the final content of the paper.

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Correspondence to Juan E. Malo.

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Funding

This study was carried out as part of research projects LIFE+ Impacto 0 (LIFE 12 BIO/ES/000660) and a research agreement between UAM and CEDEX, both of which were focused on the mitigation of high-speed railway impact on bird populations. The Comunidad de Madrid, together with the European Social Fund, supports the Terrestrial Ecology Group research group (all authors) through the REMEDINAL-3 Research Network (S-2013/MAE-2719).

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The authors do not state any conflict of interest in the present study.

Ethical approval

All data in the paper correspond to carcasses from naturally fallen birds in poles. The experimentation in this paper complies with international and national regulations, as well as with institutional guidelines for research.

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Malo, J.E., García de la Morena, E.L., Hervás, I. et al. Uncapped tubular poles along high-speed railway lines act as pitfall traps for cavity nesting birds. Eur J Wildl Res 62, 483–489 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-016-1025-x

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Keywords

  • Bird mortality
  • Catenary
  • Impact assessment
  • Mitigation
  • Monitoring
  • Transport infrastructure