Assessing the Impacts of Artificial Light and Anthropogenic Noise on Seabirds

Author: Larissa Iasiello

Iasiello, Larissa, 2022 Assessing the Impacts of Artificial Light and Anthropogenic Noise on Seabirds, Flinders University, College of Science and Engineering

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Seabirds are important bio-indicators within marine environments and are commonly used by researchers to monitor pollutant levels and inform conservation efforts as they are long-lived species that are highly reliant on their senses and exploit a board range of habitats and therefore the occurrence of rapid changes in seabird colony dynamics can indicate the presence of extremely harmful environmental conditions. Coastal developments are ever expanding and increasing the presence of harmful pollutants within the marine environment. Artificial light and anthropogenic noise are common sensory pollutants produced from coastal developments yet their impacts on seabirds are not fully studied. In this thesis our aim was to determine the behavioural and physiological impact anthropogenic noise, such as construction noise, on incubating little penguins, while also monitoring any impacts to breeding success of little penguins and of closely associated seabird species, the black-faced cormorant and the crested tern. We used cameras to record behavioural response and a dummy egg contained with an internal omnidirectional lavalier condenser microphone connected to a either a Zoom H4n or a Tascam DR-05 to record the heart rate of the individual. We also aimed to determine the behavioural impacts artificial light would have on returning little penguins at night. For this experiment we used a self-sustaining light system, composed of one white LED floodlight connected to an inverter linked to a deep cycle battery that was automatically charged by one Solar Panel and had a control system with a decoy light that mimicked the experimental system at two different landing sites. This thesis found a significant increase in vigilance behaviours of little penguins exposed to construction noise, and a significant increase in duration of behavioural recovery from construction playback, with this short-term experiment having no negative impact on their breeding success. We also found that under artificially illuminated conditions little penguins tended to arrive later on nights when the light was on compared to night when the light was off and that occurrence of vigilance behaviours was site-specific and significantly less when the light was on. Our results reveal sensory disturbance, such as artificial light and anthropogenic noise, produced from coastal developments can initiated cause individuals to alter their behavioural time budget.

Keywords: Light, Noise, Seabirds, Little penguin, Behavioural, Physiological, Impacts

Subject: Environmental management thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2022
School: College of Science and Engineering
Supervisor: Dr Diane Colombelli-negrel