Pervasive impacts of artificial light

Gaston, K.J., Ackermann, S., Bennie, J., Cox, D.T.C., Phillips, B.B., Sánchez de Miguel, A. & Sanders, D. 2021. Pervasiveness of biological impacts of artificial light at night. Integrative and Comparative Biology 61, 1098-1110.

Artificial light at night (ALAN) and its associated biological impacts have regularly been characterized as predominantly urban issues. Although far from trivial, this would imply that these impacts only affect ecosystems that are already heavily modified by humans and are relatively limited in their spatial extent, at least as compared with some key anthropogenic pressures on the environment that attract much more scientific and public attention, such as climate change or plastic pollution. However, there are a number of reasons to believe that ALAN and its impacts are more pervasive, and therefore need to be viewed from a broader geographic perspective rather than an essentially urban one. Here we address, in turn, 11 key issues when considering the degree of spatial pervasiveness of the biological impacts of ALAN. First, the global extent of ALAN is likely itself commonly underestimated, as a consequence of limitations of available remote sensing data sources and how these are processed. Second and third, more isolated (rural) and mobile (e.g., vehicle headlight) sources of ALAN may have both very widespread and important biological influences. Fourth and fifth, the occurrence and impacts of ALAN in marine systems and other remote settings, need much greater consideration. Sixth, seventh, and eighth, there is growing evidence for important biological impacts of ALAN at low light levels, from skyglow, and over long distances (because of the altitudes from which it may be viewed by some organisms), all of which would increase the areas over which impacts are occurring. Ninth and tenth, ALAN may exert indirect biological effects that may further expand these areas, because it has a landscape ecology (modifying movement and dispersal and so hence with effects beyond the direct extent of ALAN), and because ALAN interacts with other anthropogenic pressures on the environment. Finally, ALAN is not stable, but increasing rapidly in global extent, and shifting toward wavelengths of light that often have greater biological impacts.