Artificial light confuses anti-predator defences

Bullough, K., Gaston, K.J. & Troscianko, J. 2023. Artificial light a night causes conflicting behavioural and morphological defence responses in a marine isopod. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 290, 20230725.

Encroachment of artificial light at night (ALAN) into natural habitats is increasingly recognized as a major source of anthropogenic disturbance. Research focussed on variation in the intensity and spectrum of ALAN emissions has established physiological, behavioural and population-level effects across plants and animals. However, little attention has been paid to the structural aspect of this light, nor how combined morphological and behavioural anti-predator adaptations are affected. We investigated how lighting structure, background reflectance and the three-dimensional properties of the environment combined to affect anti-predator defences in the marine isopod Ligia oceanica. Experimental trials monitored behavioural responses including movement and background choice, and also colour change, a widespread morphological anti-predator mechanism little considered in relation to ALAN exposure. We found that behavioural responses of isopods to ALAN were consistent with classic risk-aversion strategies, being particularly exaggerated under diffuse lighting. However, this behaviour was disconnected from optimal morphological strategies, as diffuse light caused isopods to become lighter coloured while seeking out darker backgrounds. Our work highlights the potential for the structure of natural and artificial light to play a key role in behavioural and morphological processes likely to affect anti-predator adaptations, survival, and ultimately wider ecological effects.