Although Roseate Terns (Sterna dougallii) habituate to many research activities, trapping and handling breeding adults, or repeatedly handling chicks, may affect reproductive success or chick growth. Protocols for trapping adult Roseate Terns that reduce the chances of nest desertion, neglect of chicks, and injury to adults were developed in the early 1980s, but neither short-term nor long-term effects of research activities on this endangered species have been fully investigated. Therefore, this study had the following main objectives: 1) examine long-term data (1978-1996) to determine if trapping activities have had a major effect on annual reproductive success of a Roseate Tern colony, 2) evaluate the effects of trapping adult terns on reproductive success and chick growth, and 3) evaluate the effects of handling chicks on their growth and survival. There were no significant correlations between measures of trapping disturbance and annual reproductive success in 1978-1996 for the Falkner Island (Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, Connecticut) colony, suggesting that trapping from late incubation through chick rearing using the field protocols described herein does not have a major effect on nesting success of Roseate Terns. In 1987-1996, adult trapping did not reduce prefledging survival of first-hatched chicks, and reduced survival of second-hatched chicks only in 1994 and 1995. Results of more detailed research in 1994-1996 suggest that Roseate Terns may be susceptible to trapping effects only when also faced with extreme conditions such as low food availability and/or high predation pressure. Trapping effects did not occur in most years under apparently average or typical conditions, and otherwise seem to be much less important than other factors affecting nesting success (e.g., predation and food availability). Analyses of chick growth data from 1987-1996 showed that while trapping significantly reduced early growth compared to untrapped controls, most of these effects disappeared after controlling for variation due to laying variables and other indices of parental age and quality. Trapping had little or no effect on later growth (indices of fledgling quality) and thus is unlikely to affect postfledging survival and fitness. For chicks whose parents were trapped, the sex of the adult(s), timing of trapping during the nesting stage, and interval between trapping events (if both parents were trapped) had little or no effect on growth. Daily or near-daily handling of chicks did not significantly affect their growth, prefledging survival, or postfledging survival. These results suggest that while trapping adult Roseate Terns can sometimes affect reproductive success and early chick growth and should be taken into account during research, trapping effects tend to be minor, short-lived, and unlikely to affect overall population health. While the full implications for population health and individual fitness are not entirely clear, there appears to be little cause for concern that trapping and banding activities are a significant problem for Roseate Terns. However, this qualitative assessment of the biological significance of trapping effects needs empirical testing. There remains a practical need to explore the ramifications of trapping effects and to consider local conditions when planning trapping activities. We also need to consider how investigator-induced effects might affect research results, and to balance potential effects of research activities against the value of the information gained.
Additional Publication Details
Impacts of trapping and banding activities on productivity of Roseate Terns (Sterna Dougallii)