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Conflicts between touristic recreational activities and breeding shearwaters: short-term effect of artificial light and sound on chick weight


Human disturbances are increasingly becoming a conservation concern for many populations of colonial seabirds. Colonially reproducing species are particularly vulnerable to localised disturbances because detrimental elements can simultaneously affect the entire population. Studies of petrels and shearwaters have shown that light pollution, in particular, can be harmful for both fledglings and adults, but little is known of the way such anthropogenic elements affect the quality of parental care at the nest. Chick provisioning in petrels and shearwaters occurs exclusively at night and is also negatively correlated with the amount of moonlight. We tested the hypothesis that high-intensity light and sound disturbances will disrupt nest attendance and thus affect weight gain in chicks but that the magnitude of such effects would be modulated by moonlight conditions. We measured the effect of two outdoor disco events on overnight weight gain in 26 chicks of Scopoli’s shearwaters (Calonectris diomedea) from a breeding colony on Linosa Island. The two disco events occurred under contrasting moonlight conditions (moonless vs moonlight). Chicks situated closer to the disturbance gained significantly less weight compared to conspecifics from nests further away but the effect was only evident on the moonless night.Our results suggest that light and sound disturbances can have a negative effect on parental care in C. diomedea but moonlight might moderate the bird’s perception and thus the magnitude of the disturbance. However, while occasional disturbances may impact short-term weight gain in C. diomedea chicks, such effects are not perceivable at fledging when measured as differences in the weight or the date at which they left the nest.

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Thanks to Ivan Maggini and Markus Haber for critically reviewing earlier versions of the manuscript. We are grateful to Nadav Pezaro for correcting the English of the manuscript and for his fundamental suggestions. We would like to thank two reviewers that substantially improved the manuscript with their comments and suggestions.


This work was carried out in the framework of the LIFE project LIFE1+Nat/IT/000093 “Pelagic Birds.” The field work was also supported by Ornis italica. The study was conducted under permit issued by the Regione Siciliana and Assessorato Risorse Agricole e Alimentari

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MCB, PB and GD carried out the fieldwork; PB analysed the data; MCB, PB and BM drafted the manuscript; and GD designed and coordinated the study. All authors gave final approval for publication and approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Marco Cianchetti-Benedetti.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All applicable international, national and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

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Cianchetti-Benedetti, M., Becciu, P., Massa, B. et al. Conflicts between touristic recreational activities and breeding shearwaters: short-term effect of artificial light and sound on chick weight. Eur J Wildl Res 64, 19 (2018).

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  • Artificial light disturbance
  • Sound disturbance
  • Conservation on islands
  • Moonlight
  • Scopoli’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)