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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


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 Hydrobates pelagicus, 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. (C) 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences


  • Tourism, Productivity, Reproductive behaviour, Seabird, Storm petrel, Hydrobates pelagicus, Visitor management, Recreational disturbance, Shetland
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-133
JournalBiological Conservation
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch