Shining a light on fear

Jolkkonen, J., Gaston, K.J. & Troscianko, J. 2023. Artificial lighting affects the landscape of fear in a widely distributed shorebird. Communications Biology 6, 131.

Fear influences almost all aspects of a prey species’ behaviour, such as its foraging and movement, and has the potential to cause trophic cascades. The superior low-light vision of many predators means that perceived predation risk in prey is likely to be affected by light levels. The widespread and increasing intensity of artificial light at night is therefore likely to interfere with this nocturnal visual arms race with unknown behavioural and ecological consequences. Here we test how the fear of predation perceived by wintering Eurasian curlew foraging on tidal flats is influenced by lighting. We quantified flight initiation distance (FID) of individuals under varying levels of natural and artificial illumination. Our results demonstrate that FID is significantly and substantially reduced at low light levels and increases under higher intensity illumination, with artificial light sources having a greater influence than natural sources. Contrary to the sensory-limitation hypothesis, the curlews’ unwillingness to take flight in low-light appears to reflect the risks posed by low-light flight, and a desire to remain on valuable foraging grounds. These findings demonstrate how artificial light can shape the landscape of fear, and how this interacts with optimal foraging decisions, and the costs of taking flight.