Artificial light at night as a driver of urban colonization by an avian predator

Abstract

Context

Urbanization and artificial light at night (ALAN) are major drivers of local biodiversity losses causing community alterations, disruption of predator-prey interactions, and ultimately, promotion of cascading effects. However, some species can colonize urban environments.

Objectives

We explore the role of ALAN as a driver of the colonization of urban environments by a nocturnal avian predator, the burrowing owl Athene cunicularia.

Methods

We studied in a suburban locality in La Pampa, Argentina: (1) prey availability with pitfall traps under streetlights and control sites; (2) diet by analyzing pellets; (3) space use by deploying GPS data-loggers to breeding owls; (4) nesting habitat selection by comparing environmental variables at nest and random locations; and (5) productivity by correlating environmental variables with the number of fledglings.

Results

First, streetlights altered the invertebrate availability, attracting them to illuminated areas. Second, the owl diet was more similar to the invertebrate taxa trapped at pitfall traps under streetlights than that in control traps. Third, owl space use was determined by streetlights. Owls spent more time around light sources, particularly during the nighttime. Fourth, the most important habitat feature influencing the nesting habitat selection was the distance to streetlight. Owls selected areas close to streetlights for nesting. Finally, productivity was not explained by any of our habitat variables.

Conclusions

We demonstrate that ALAN alters the availability of invertebrates and plays a role in the diet, space use, and occupation of urban burrowing owls. Streetlights increase foraging efficiency for owls due to the clumping of prey attracted to lights. This predator-prey relationship might be only supported in suburban environments where low urbanization levels let burrowing owls nest in bare ground areas, and invertebrates are attracted to ALAN from surrounding wilder areas.

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Data availability

All data analysed during this study are included in the article, its supplementary information files, and the Digital.CSIC repository (Rodríguez et al. 2020).

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Acknowledgements

We are in debt with landowners who allowed us to enter their properties to study owls. We thank our many friends and all Global Training fellows from University of the Basque Country for helping us during fieldwork. We also thank Mónica Pia for labwork and staff from the Museo Provincial de Historia Natural of La Pampa for invertebrate identification. Cami Sarasola and Jaime Potti improved the English grammar. Two anonymous reviewers provided useful comments. AR was supported by a Juan de la Cierva (Incorporación) contract, Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness (IJCI-2015-23913). This research was supported by the project ‘Impacto de la contaminación lumínica en el comportamiento de un predador nocturno (Project ID: BS2017CSICS2017C00088903)’ and funded by the program Becas Iberoamérica-Santander Investigación (Fundación Banco de Santander).

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Contributions

AR, PMO-V, and JHS designed the study. PMO-V, JHS, and AR collected field data. JHS, AR, and PMO-V provided materials. AR analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript with input from all authors. All authors approved the final version.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Airam Rodríguez.

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All procedures in this study were approved by Dirección de Recursos Naturales from Government of La Pampa province, Argentina. All procedures undertaken in this study were in accordance with approved guidelines.

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Rodríguez, A., Orozco-Valor, P.M. & Sarasola, J.H. Artificial light at night as a driver of urban colonization by an avian predator. Landscape Ecol 36, 17–27 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-020-01132-3

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Keywords

  • Artificial night lighting
  • Behavior
  • Cascading effects
  • Diet
  • Home range
  • Light pollution
  • Nocturnal raptor
  • Urban ecology