Out of sight but not out of harm’s way: human disturbance reduces reproductive success of a cavity-nesting seabird

Watson, H., Bolton, M. and Monaghan, P. (2014) Out of sight but not out of harm’s way: human disturbance reduces reproductive success of a cavity-nesting seabird. Biological Conservation, 174, pp. 127-133. (doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2014.03.020) (PMID:24899731) (PMCID:PMC4039997)

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While negative effects of human disturbance on animals living above the ground have been widely reported, few studies have considered effects on animals occupying cavities or burrows underground. It is generally assumed that, in the absence of direct visual contact, such species are less vulnerable to disturbance. Seabird colonies can support large populations of burrow- and cavity-nesting species and attract increasing numbers of tourists. We investigated the potential effects of recreational disturbance on the reproductive behaviour of the European storm petrel <i>Hydrobates pelagicus</i>, a nocturnally-active cavity-nesting seabird. Reproductive phenology and outcome of nests subject to high and low levels of visitor pressure were recorded in two consecutive years. Hatching success did not differ between disturbance levels, but overall nestling mortality was significantly higher in areas exposed to high visitor pressure. Although visitor numbers were consistent throughout the season, the magnitude and rate of a seasonal decline in productivity were significantly greater in nests subject to high disturbance. This study presents good evidence that, even when humans do not pose a direct mortality risk, animals may perceive them as a predation risk. This has implications for the conservation and management of a diverse range of burrow- and cavity-dwelling animals. Despite this reduction in individual fitness, overall colony productivity was reduced by ≤1.6% compared with that expected in the absence of visitors. While the colony-level consequences at the site in question may be considered minor, conservation managers must evaluate the trade-off between potential costs and benefits of public access on a site- and species-specific basis.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Bolton, Dr Mark and Monaghan, Professor Pat and Watson, Miss Hannah
Authors: Watson, H., Bolton, M., and Monaghan, P.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Biodiversity, One Health & Veterinary Medicine
Journal Name:Biological Conservation
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2014 The Authors
First Published:First published in Biological Conservation 174:127-133
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
500142Doctoral Training Grant 2009-16Julian DowBiotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)BB/F016700/1RI MOLECULAR CELL & SYSTEMS BIOLOGY