Background Cities differ from non-urban environments by the intensity, scale, and extent of anthropogenic pressures, which can drive the occurrence, physiology, and behavior of the organisms thriving in these settings. Traits as green cover often predict the occurrence patterns of bird species in urban areas. Yet, anthropogenic noise and artificial light at night (ALAN) could also limit the presence and disrupt the behavior of birds. However, there is still a dearth of knowledge about the influence of urbanization through noise and light pollution on nocturnal bird species ecology. In this study, we assessed the role of green cover, noise, and light pollution on the occurrence and vocal activity of the Mottled Owl (Ciccaba virgata) in the city of Xalapa (Mexico).
Methods We obtained soundscape recordings in 61 independent sites scattered across the city of Xalapa using autonomous recording units. We performed a semi-automated acoustic analysis of the recordings, corroborating all Mottled Owl vocalizations. We calculated two measures of anthropogenic noise at each study site: daily noise (during 24 h) and masking noise (mean noise amplitude at night per site that could mask the owl's vocalizations). We further performed generalized linear models to relate green cover, ALAN, daily noise, and masking noise in relation to the owl's occurrence (i.e., detected, undetected). We also ran linear models to assess relationships among the beginning and ending of vocal activity with ALAN, and with the anthropogenic and masking noise levels at the moment of which vocalizations were emitted. Finally, we explored variations of the vocal activity of the Mottled Owl measured as vocalization rate across time.
Results The presence of Mottled Owls increased with the size of green cover and decreased with increases in both artificial light at night and noise levels. At the temporal scale, green cover was positively related with the ending of the owl's vocal activity, while daily noise and ALAN levels were not related to the timing and vocal output (i.e., number of vocalizations). Furthermore, the Mottled Owl showed a marked peak of vocal activity before dawn than after dusk. Although anthropogenic noise levels varied significantly across the assessed time, we did not find an association between high vocal output during time periods with lower noise levels.
Conclusions Spatially, green cover area was positively related with the presence of the Mottled Owl in Xalapa, while high noise and light pollution were related to its absence. At a temporal scale, daily noise and ALAN levels were not related with the timing and vocal output. This suggests that instead of environmental factors, behavioral contexts such as territoriality and mate interactions could drive the vocal activity of the Mottled Owl. Further studies need to incorporate a wider seasonal scale in order to explore the variation of different vocalizations of this species in relation to environmental and biological factors.