The Environment

"When we add light to the environment, that has the potential to disrupt habitat, just like running a bulldozer over the landscape can." — Chad Moore National Park Service 

 

Starry Sky Arches

Light pollution is a threat to the environment

For billions of years, all life has relied on Earth's predictable rhythm of day and night. It's encoded in the DNA of all plants and animals. Humans have radically disrupted this cycle by lighting up the night.

Plants and animals depend on Earth's daily cycle of light and dark rhythm to govern life-sustaining behaviors such as reproduction, nourishment, sleep and protection from predators.

Scientific evidence suggests that artificial light at night has negative and deadly effects on many creatures including amphibians, birds, mammals, insects and plants.

NocternalRacoon  Michael Newton

Credit: Michael Newton

 

 

 

Nocternal Badger Ranveig Thattai cropped

Credit: Chris_Parfitt

Artificial lights disrupt the world's ecosystems

Nocturnal mammals sleep during the day and are active at night. Light pollution radically alters their nighttime environment by turning night into day.

According to research scientist Christopher Kyba, for nocturnal animals, "the introduction of artificial light probably represents the most drastic change human beings have made to their environment."

"Predators use light to hunt, and prey species use darkness as cover," Kyba explains "Near cities, cloudy skies are now hundreds, or even thousands of times brighter than they were 200 years ago. We are only beginning to learn what a drastic effect this has had on nocturnal ecology."

Glare from artificial lights can also impact wetland habitats — home to amphibians such as frogs and toads, whose nighttime croaking is part of the breeding ritual. Artificial lights disrupt this nocturnal activity, interfering with reproduction and reducing populations.

 

Sea turtle hachtlings to sea

Artificial Lights Can Lead Baby Sea turtles to their Demise

Sea turtles live in the ocean but hatch at night on the beach. Hatchlings find the sea by detecting the bright horizon over the ocean. Artificial lights draw them away from the ocean. In Florida alone, millions of hatchlings die this way every year.

Glare from artificial lights can also impact wetland habitats — home to amphibians such as frogs and toads, whose nighttime croaking is part of the breeding ritual. Artificial lights disrupt this nocturnal activity, interfering with reproduction and reducing populations.

Migratory birds depend on cues from properly timed seasonal schedules. Artificial lights can cause them to migrate too early or too late and miss ideal climate conditions for nesting, forgaing and other behaviors.

 

Artificial Lights have Devastating Effects on Many Bird Species

Migrating geese fullmoon Michael Menefee

Birds that migrate or hunt at night navigate by moonlight and starlight. Artificial light can cause them to wander off course and toward the dangerous nighttime landscapes of cities. Every year millions of birds die colliding with needlessly illuminated buildings and towers.

Migratory birds depend on cues from properly timed seasonal schedules. Artificial lights can cause them to migrate too early or too late and miss ideal climate conditions for nesting, forgaing and other behaviors.  


Bugs in Light

Ecosystems: Everything is Connected

Many insects are drawn to light, but artificial lights can create a fatal attraction. Declining insect populations negatively impact all species that rely on insects for food or pollination. Some predators exploit this attraction to their advantage, affecting food webs in unanticipated ways. 

 

Resources

For Kids
Nighttime Activity Book

Videos

Dark Ranger, Kevin Poe, explains how light pollution affects baby sea turtles and provides ways in which we can help them successfully make their journey from the shore to the ocean.

Learn in one minute what you can do to protect birds.

 

 

 Learn in one minute what you can do to protect wildlife


Watch this video from the Sea Turtle Conservancy on the effect of light 
pollution on sea turtles.



Watch this Science in Seconds video to learn how light pollution 
negatively affect all types of wildlife.

 

Recent News Items on Light Pollution & the Environment

‘Lights Out’ seeks to stem bird carnage caused by city skylines (Washington Post)
 Lights Out Baltimore, an organization that started in 2008, scours the streets in the predawn hours to collect birds — dead or stunned — that have collided with windows in the city’s corporate canyons. Read more.

Light pollution 'affects bats' tropical seed dispersal' (BBC News)
Light pollution could affect the regeneration of tropical rainforests because it disrupts the behavior of seed dispersing bats, a study suggests. Read more.

Birds Killed By Skyscrapers: An Oddly Life-Affirming Photo Essay (FastCompany)
Nine years ago, artist Lynne Parks got into birdwatching. The Baltimore-based artist, who has suffered from cancer since childhood, found something life-affirming in the birds' energy. Read more.

Artificial lighting and noise alter biorhythms of birds (Science Daily)
Noise from traffic and artificial night lighting cause birds in the city center to become active up to five hours earlier in the morning than birds in more natural areas. Read more.

Night light pollution affect songbirds' mating life, research suggests (Science Daily)
In today's increasingly urbanized world, the lights in many places are always on, and according to a new study, that's having a real impact on the mating life of forest-breeding songbirds. Read more.

Light at night, melatonin and bird behavior (Science Daily)
Low light levels, similar to those found in urban areas at night, can have a significant effect on melatonin production in birds at night. This suggests that melatonin could be mediating changes in bird behavior at night. Read more.