Artificial light in Protected Areas

Gaston, K.J., Duffy, J.P. & Bennie, J. (2015) Quantifying the erosion of natural darkness in the global protected area system. Conservation Biology 29(4), 1132-41.

The nighttime light environment of much of the earth has been transformed by the introduction of electric lighting. This impact continues to spread with growth in the human population and extent of urbanization. This has profound consequences for organismal physiology and behavior and affects abundances and distributions of species, community structure, and likely ecosystem functions and processes. Protected areas play key roles in buffering biodiversity from a wide range of anthropogenic pressures. We used a calibration of a global satellite data set of nighttime lights to determine how well they are fulfilling this role with regard to artificial nighttime lighting. Globally, areas that are protected tend to be darker at night than those that are not, and, with the exception of Europe, recent regional declines in the proportion of the area that is protected and remains dark have been small. However, much of these effects result from the major contribution to overall protected area coverage by the small proportion of individual protected areas that are very large. Thus, in Europe and North America high proportions of individual protected areas (>17%) have exhibited high levels of nighttime lighting in all recent years, and in several regions (Europe, Asia, South and Central America) high proportions of protected areas (32–42%) have had recent significant increases in nighttime lighting. Limiting and reversing the erosion of nighttime darkness in protected areas will require routine consideration of nighttime conditions when designating and establishing new protected areas; establishment of appropriate buffer zones around protected areas where lighting is prohibited; and landscape level reductions in artificial nighttime lighting, which is being called for in general to reduce energy use and economic costs.

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