Ecology of the night

Gaston, K.J. (2019) Nighttime ecology: the “nocturnal problem” revisited. American Naturalist 193, online early.

The existence of a synthetic program of research on what was then termed the “nocturnal problem” and that we might now call “nighttime ecology” was declared more than 70 years ago. In reality, this failed to materialize, arguably as a consequence of practical challenges in studying organisms at night and instead concentrating on the existence of circadian rhythms, the mechanisms that give rise to them, and their consequences. This legacy is evident to this day, with consideration of the ecology of the nighttime markedly underrepresented in ecological research and literature. However, several factors suggest that it would be timely to revive the vision of a comprehensive research program in nighttime ecology. These include (i) that the study of the ecology of the night is being revolutionized by new and improved technologies; (ii) suggestions that, far from being a minor component of biodiversity, a high proportion of animal species are active at night; (iii) that fundamental questions about differences and connections between the ecology of the daytime and the nighttime remain largely unanswered; and (iv) that the nighttime environment is coming under severe anthropogenic pressure. In this article, I seek to reestablish nighttime ecology as a synthetic program of research, highlighting key focal topics and questions and providing an overview of the current state of understanding and developments.