By virtue of their position at the upper levels of the trophic chain, predatory species are often sensitive to perturbations operating at lower trophic levels and the consequent ecosystem dysfunctions that the latter may generate. Thus, predators are usually considered exigent organisms, they are very frequently classified as threatened, they are often the first species to disappear from areas affected by growing human pressure and their extinction can cause cascading impacts on the whole ecosystem, further exacerbating the negative consequences of human pressure. Because of the above, top predators and mesopredators are often employed as potential sentinels of ecosystem health to monitor the effects of anthropogenic threats, such as contamination by toxic pollutants, or the intensification of agro-pastoral and forestry practices. Furthermore, these organisms are often iconic species, whose charisma makes them ideal tools to disseminate scientific results and to sensitize the public about environmental issues. Thus, monitoring and understanding the ecological requirements and the responses to anthropogenic change by these species is a key component of sustainable development.

The main objective of the medium-sized raptors eLab will be to monitor the individuals and populations of various raptor species within Doñana National Park, a Ramsar wetland and UNESCO site of international importance, which make it one of the most renowned protected areas of Europe. The ultimate goal will be to use last-generation remote sensing to examine the ecological requirements, spatial behaviour and exposure to potential anthropogenic threats by these conservation-sensitive species. In particular, the main aims of the lab will be to:

  1. Investigate the ranging behaviour, spatial requirements and habitat selection of several, medium-sized raptor species within the National Park.
  2. Detect casualties in a timely manner and assess the causes of mortality through rapid field-inspection, thus providing key information on the main anthropogenic threats that may limit population growth or trigger potential declines.
  3. Examine how frequently the marked raptors use areas outside the National Park and their consequent exposure to potential anthropogenic threats. This may include frequent perching on electricity pylons with dangerous configurations that may cause electrocution, use of game reserves suspected to employ poisoned baits for predator control, or feeding at rubbish dumps which may indirectly cause the transfer of wildlife diseases to the interior of the National Park.
  4. Provide knowledge and solutions that may help the Park Authority to improve the overall protection of the Doñana wider ecosystem. For example, quick detection of deaths caused by consumption of illegal, poisoned baits may allow the conviction of the game reserve or individual that is employing such illegal means, while identification of dangerous electricity lines that are frequently used as hunting perches could lead to their insulation by the responsible electrical companies before they cause casualties.


The eLab on medium-sized raptors is composed by a research professor (Fernando Hiraldo), a researcher (Fabrizio Sergio) and a Ramon y Cajal fellow (Julio Blas). The eLab also incorporates a number of international PhD and postgraduates students. Collectively, the research team has worked on raptors for the past 40 years and has developed intensive marking studies on the raptor populations of Doñana National Park since the 1980s, providing the necessary expertise for the objectives mentioned above. In recent years, the team has published numerous papers on predators on several prestigious scientific journals, all the way up to Nature and Science, and received several international awards, such as the Hammerstrom Award (USA, 2001 and 2011), Watson Prize (UK, 2012 and 2015), or the UNESCO Award 2013. The results of the team’s research have been disseminated widely through documentaries, TV and radio interviews, books and magazines, reaching the public of more than 20 nations, from Australia to Thailand, Japan, Canada or Brazil and including prestigious outlets such as the BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio, Radio Deutschlandfunk, Swiss Public Radio, or Yomiuri, the most ancient newspaper of Japan.