Lighting up the tropics

de Freitas, J.R., Bennie, J., Mantovani, W. & Gaston, K.J. 2017. Exposure of tropical ecosystems to artificial light at night: Brazil as a case study. PLoS One 12, e0171655. Screen Shot 2017-02-18 at 14.52.57

Artificial nighttime lighting from streetlights and other sources has a broad range of biological effects. Understanding the spatial and temporal levels and patterns of this lighting is a key step in determining the severity of adverse effects on different ecosystems, vegetation, and habitat types. Few such analyses have been conducted, particularly for regions with high biodiversity, including the tropics. We used an intercalibrated version of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program’s Operational Linescan System (DMSP/OLS) images of stable nighttime lights to determine what proportion of original and current Brazilian vegetation types are experiencing measurable levels of artificial light and how this has changed in recent years. The percentage area affected by both detectable light and increases in brightness ranged between 0 and 35% for native vegetation types, and between 0 and 25% for current vegetation (i.e. including agriculture). The most heavily affected areas encompassed terrestrial coastal vegetation types (restingas and mangroves), Semideciduous Seasonal Forest, and Mixed Ombrophilous Forest. The existing small remnants of Lowland Deciduous and Semideciduous Seasonal Forests and of Campinarana had the lowest exposure levels to artificial light. Light pollution has not often been investigated in developing countries but our data show that it is an environmental concern.