The Dangers of Light Pollution on Insect Ecosystems

Urban astronomers and insomniacs aren’t the only ones affected by light pollution. New research shines a sickly-orange spotlight on the impact our streetlights may have on insect populations and biodiversity.

“Insects provide crucial services to humans, such as pollination and decomposition to organic matter,” researcher Thomas Davies told Discovery News. “We are facing an insect biodiversity crisis.”

Davies and his team, who are members of the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute, conducted an experiment using insect traps in Helston, Cornwall, UK. For three days and nights, they placed the traps near streetlights and measured them 30 minutes before sunrise and sunset.

The traps that were closest to streetlights picked up a significantly higher number of bugs, even during the day. By the end of the study, researchers found a total of 1,194 invertebrates representing 60 different insect species. Ants, beetles, woodlice and fleas were among the most common.

“These species are generally more mobile than others, making it more likely that they will encounter habitats that are lit to varying levels of brightness, providing them with the opportunity to make a selection of a preferred habitat,” Davies told Discovery News.

It’s no surprise that light attracts bugs, but Davies warned that the increase in artificial light is changing the insects’ migration and hunting patterns in ways that may disrupt larger ecosystems. Everything from birds to sea turtles to humans could be impacted as the insect communities gravitate toward more urban and suburban places.

Davies cited a different study that found that Triatoma dimidiate, an insect known for carrying an infectious disease called Chagas, was more likely to infest a building if that building was close to a streetlight.

“The range of effects of light pollution are really very diverse,” he said.

“So far, much of the research has shown that artificial light changes the behavior of individual species,” added John Hopkins, an adviser for Natural England. “These effects are very diverse and range, for example, from changes [in] mate locating success, migration and predation behaviors, among others.”

Hopkins hopes the new research will enable scientists to discover the precise effects that light pollution and insects have on an ecosystem. “Although invertebrates seem to be lowly life forms, in many ecosystems they have more impact than birds and mammals,” he said.

According to Discovery News, experts estimate that light pollution around the globe is increasing by 6% each year.

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Photo credit: Sarah Cartwright (Creative Commons)

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Sergio Padilla
Sergio Padilla3 years ago

I am not surprised... Every human act has had a negative impact on wildlife :(

Grace Adams
Grace Adams3 years ago

Barbara S. Maybe that is contributing to my insomnia. I get up two or three or more times to go to the bathroom most nights. There is more than enough light coming in my windows all year round all night long to find my way to the bathroom at night.

Linda McKellar
Past Member 3 years ago

People should petition their town/city leaders to use night sky friendly, economical lighting on all new housing developments and replacement of current lighting when it becomes necessary.

Katie K.
Katie K.3 years ago

Now that this is a fact what's going to be done about it? We just keep taking and taking and this could be something easily rectified.

sadar s.
Sadar Uddin s.3 years ago

The Most Affected Species On EARTH
the human beings are themselves being Greatly affected by the Light emitted by TV & Video and the Glitter of Gold; species behavior has changed drastically and the planet is becoming closer to extinction

E A.
Ei R.3 years ago

Never was aware of this.

Anita Wisch
Anita Wisch3 years ago

Very interesting.....

J.L. A.
JL A.3 years ago

ecosystems are so complex, yet this type of factor may not even be included in environmental impact reports anywhere in the world.........

Barbara S.

All animals & PEOPLE, too, are affected tremendously by light pollution. It's not just city lights, street lights, and house safety outside lights; it's also all those little lights on all of our technical equipment, scattered throughout our homes - microwaves, computers, routers, clock radios, cell phones, and anything else that has a light that stays on 24/7. The best way to tell if you are damaging your immune system and not getting into deep enough sleep at night, is to do this one simple test: If you can find your way through your house in the middle of the night, to get to the bathroom or the kitchen... you've got too much light. Migratory birds and animals are losing their ways because of the outside lighting, and we're damaging all our pets and ourselves. The best solution is to keep a manual wind-up clock by your bed instead of an electronic one that always displays the time. Close your blinds at night, and keep all electronic items out of your bedroom, and where your pets sleep. Use a small flashlight, if you have to get up for any reason, during normal sleep hours. You'll feel much better in a short period of time.

Pamela H.
Pamela H.3 years ago

Amanda M I understand completely how you feel. My pet hates are those blinding ultra-white fluorescent tubes. A family moved in next door to me and the husband installed a whole row of them along his back veranda. How much light do they need to sit out there in summer? Flourescent tubes are everywhere, in schools, department stores and offices etc. You can't escape them. Why anyone would want them in their homes is beyond me. I had to put a polite note in their letterbox asking them if they could please hang something at the end of their veranda roof so that it doesn't light up my whole house as it does, even through the curtains, at night. At least they were thoughtful enough to remove two of the tubes closest to me. It's still pretty blinding out there at night though. Every night.