Electrocution alters the distribution and density of a top predator, the eagle owl Bubo bubo
Article first published online: 30 SEP 2004
Journal of Applied Ecology
Volume 41, Issue 5, pages 836–845, October 2004
How to Cite
SERGIO, F., MARCHESI, L., PEDRINI, P., FERRER, M. and PENTERIANI, V. (2004), Electrocution alters the distribution and density of a top predator, the eagle owl Bubo bubo. Journal of Applied Ecology, 41: 836–845. doi: 10.1111/j.0021-8901.2004.00946.x
- Issue published online: 30 SEP 2004
- Article first published online: 30 SEP 2004
- Received 26 October 2003; final copy received 14 June 2004
- anthropogenic disturbance;
- conservation guidelines;
- habitat selection;
- human-induced mortality;
- population effects;
- power lines;
- spatial effects
- 1Electrocution has frequently been suggested as a cause of territory abandonment and eventual population decline of threatened species, but this has been rarely tested. We investigated the impact of electrocution in two eagle owl Bubo bubo populations located in the Italian Alps and Apennines and subject to different levels of electrocution risk (i.e. low and high risk). The eagle owl is one of the species most affected by electrocution, to the point of causing local conservation and economic concern. In a review of 25 studies, electrocution was frequently cited as the major cause of death and has progressively increased in the last three decades, independently from other causes of mortality.
- 2The impact of electrocution was tested by (i) comparing estimates of electrocution risk between currently occupied owl territories and infrequently occupied or abandoned territories; (ii) collecting information on the spatiotemporal frequency of electrocution incidents; (iii) measuring density, breeding success and post-fledging survival for populations and territories subject to different electrocution risk.
- 3In the low-risk population electrocution casualties varied spatiotemporally, peaking in the period of immature dispersal and at pylons that were good hunting perches. Furthermore, eagle owls over-selected low-altitude habitats, which forced them into close contact with power lines. However, nest-site selection was independent of electrocution risk, although territories that were not occupied every year were nearer to power lines than stable territories.
- 4In contrast, in the high-risk population, territories near to power lines, most of them at low altitude, were progressively abandoned during a 10-year period, leading to a steeply declining, scattered, low-density and increasingly high-altitude population.
- 5Although there was no effect on long-term breeding success, the presence of pylons within 200 m of the nest increased the likelihood of partial or complete brood loss in the post-fledging period. We estimated that 17% of the fledged young were lost to electrocution.
- 6At the population level, density was negatively related to electrocution risk in eight Alpine study areas. However, comparison between the two regions suggested that electrocution impact may interact with other factors, such as resource availability.
- 7Synthesis and applications. Our results show how subtle anthropogenic disturbance may affect population breeding performance and quickly alter the gradient of environmental quality for an endangered bird, leading to potential population limitation. Conservation guidelines should prioritize the insulation of those pylons most likely to cause casualties (e.g. in good hunting habitat and close to nests), ensuring that all new lines are raptor safe.