Artificial nighttime light pollution in natural ecosystems

Bennie, J., Duffy, J.P., Davies, T.W., Correa-Cano, M.E. & Gaston, K.J. (2015) Global trends in exposure to light pollution in natural terrestrial ecosystems. Remote Sensing 7, 2715-2730.

The rapid growth in electric light usage across the globe has led to increasing presence of artificial light in natural and semi-natural ecosystems at night. This occurs both due to direct illumination and skyglow – scattered light in the atmosphere. There is increasing concern about the effects of artificial light on biological processes, biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems. We combine intercalibrated Defense Meteorological Satellite Program’s Operational Linescan System (DMSP/OLS) images of stable night-time lights for the period 1992 to 2012 with a remotely sensed landcover product (GLC2000) to assess recent changes in exposure to artificial light at night in 43 global ecosystem types. We find that Mediterranean-climate ecosystems have experienced the greatest increases in exposure, followed by temperate ecosystems. Boreal, Arctic and montane systems experienced the lowest increases. In tropical and subtropical regions, the greatest increases are in mangroves and subtropical needleleaf and mixed forests, and in arid regions increases are mainly in forest and agricultural areas. The global ecosystems experiencing the greatest increase in exposure to artificial light are already localized and fragmented, and often of particular conservation importance due to high levels of diversity, endemism and rarity. Night time remote sensing can play a key role in identifying the extent to which natural ecosystems are exposed to light pollution.

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