Mapping lights for ecology

Bennie, J., Davies, T. W., Inger, R. and Gaston, K. J. (2014), Mapping artificial lightscapes for ecological studies. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 5: 534–540. doi:10.1111/2041-210X.12182

  1. Artificial illumination of the night is increasing globally. There is growing evidence of a range of ecological impacts of artificial light and awareness of light pollution as a significant environmental issue. In urban and suburban areas, complex spatial patterns of light sources, structures and vegetation create a highly heterogeneous night-time light environment for plants and animals.
  2. We developed a method for modelling the night-time light environment at a high spatial resolution in a small urban area for ecological studies. We used the position and height of street lights, and digital terrain and surface models, to predict the direct light intensity at different wavelengths at different heights above the ground surface.
  3. Validation against field measurements of night-time light showed that modelled light intensities in the visible and ultraviolet portions of the spectrum were accurate.
  4. We show how this model can be used to map biologically relevant lightscapes across an urban landscape. We also illustrate the utility of the model using night-time light maps as resistance surfaces in the software package CIRCUITSCAPE to predict potential movement of model nocturnal species between habitat patches and to identify key corridors and barriers to movement and dispersal.
  5. Understanding the ecological effects of artificial light requires knowledge of the light environment experienced by organisms throughout the diurnal and annual cycles, during periods of activity and rest and during different life stages. Our approach to high-resolution mapping of artificial lightscapes can be adapted to the sensitivity to light of different species and to other urban, suburban, rural and industrial landscapes.

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