Modeling artificial light viewed by fledgling seabirds


  • Corresponding Editor: R. Gardner.


Artificial light is increasing in coverage across the surface of our planet, impacting the behavioral ecology of many organisms. Attraction to sources of artificial light is a significant threat to certain fledgling shearwaters, petrels (Procellariidae), and storm-petrels (Hydrobatidae) on their first nocturnal flights to the sea. Disorientation by light can cause these birds to crash into vegetation or manmade structures, potentially resulting in death from physical injury, starvation, dehydration, predation by introduced predators, or collisions with vehicles. We developed a GIS-based method to model the intensity of artificial light that fledgling procellariids and hydrobatids could view en route to the ocean (to estimate the degree of threat that artificial light poses to these birds) and present two models for the island of Kauai as examples. These models are particularly relevant to the federally threatened Newell's Shearwater, or `A`o (Puffinus newelli), of which >30,000 fledglings have been collected in response to disorientation by lights on Kauai during the past 30 years. Our models suggest that there are few to no portions of Kauai from which young birds could fledge and not view light on their post-natal nocturnal flights, which is concerning given evidence of a Newell's Shearwater population decline. In future work using this technique, night light intensity layers could be altered to model the effects of modified coastal light conditions on known and potential procellariid and hydrobatid breeding locations. Furthermore, certain methods presented herein may be applicable to other seabirds and additional taxa in which attraction to anthropogenic light poses a serious threat, including migratory passerines and hatchling marine turtles. Components of this modeling approach could potentially be used to spatially estimate effects of other point-source threats to ecological systems, including sound and air pollution.