Diverse impacts of artificial light

Sanders, D., Frago, E., Kehoe, R., Patterson, C. & Gaston, K.J. 2020. A meta-analysis of biological impacts of artificial light at night. Nature Ecology and Evolution [online early].

Natural light cycles are being eroded over large areas of the globe by the direct emissions and sky brightening that result from sources of artificial night-time light. This is predicted to affect wild organisms, particularly because of the central role that light regimes play in determining the timing of biological activity. Although many empirical studies have reported such effects, these have focused on particular species or local communities and have thus been unable to provide a general evaluation of the overall frequency and strength of these impacts. Using a new database of published studies, we show that exposure to artificial light at night induces strong responses for physiological measures, daily activity patterns and life history traits. We found particularly strong responses with regards to hormone levels, the onset of daily activity in diurnal species and life history traits, such as the number of offspring, predation, cognition and seafinding (in turtles). So far, few studies have focused on the impact of artificial light at night on ecosystem functions. The breadth and often strength of biological impacts we reveal highlight the need for outdoor artificial night-time lighting to be limited to the places and forms—such as timing, intensity and spectrum—where it is genuinely required by the people using it to minimize ecological impacts.