Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ecologists shed new light on effects of light pollution on wildlife

Date:
November 28, 2012
Source:
University of Exeter
Summary:
Light pollution is often associated with negative effects on wildlife. Now, ecologists have found that by mimicking a perpetual full moon, the gas flares and electrical lighting along Scotland's Forth estuary are helping shorebirds stock up on more food during the winter to fuel their spring migration.

VHF tracking in front of Grangemouth refinery.
Credit: Copyright Hamish Campbell

Light pollution is often associated with negative effects on wildlife. Now, ecologists have found that by mimicking a perpetual full moon, the gas flares and electrical lighting along Scotland's Forth estuary are helping shorebirds stock up on more food during the winter to fuel their spring migration.

Related Articles


The research is the first to use night-time light data from US military satellites to study animal behaviour.

Coasts and estuaries are among the most rapidly developing areas on Earth. Night-time satellite images of the planet show that except Antarctica, continents are ringed with halos of brightly-lit human development. But coasts are also key wildlife sites. Every year, millions of waterbirds arrive from the Arctic to overwinter on UK coasts, yet scientists remain largely in the dark about how these birds respond to the bright lights of coastal cities and industry.

To shed light on the issue, Dr Ross Dwyer and colleagues from the University of Exeter's Biosciences department investigated how artificial light affected feeding habits of the common redshank in the Forth estuary, one of Scotland's most industrialised coasts. As well as major industry such as Grangemouth oil refinery and Longannet power station, whose lights and gas flares illuminate the intertidal areas at night, the estuary's pristine salt marsh and mudflats are home to hundreds of thousands of migrating birds each winter.

Dr Dwyer measured the amount of artificial light in the Forth estuary at night using satellite images from the US Air Force. Although they have been previously used to study electrical power consumption, this is the first time such US military data has been used in animal behaviour research.

He then worked out how the light affected the birds' foraging behaviour by attaching tiny radio transmitters to the backs of 20 redshanks. The devices monitored the birds' location and contained posture sensors to detect how often the birds put their heads down to feed.

Generally, redshanks need to forage day and night during the winter to find enough food. These birds usually forage by sight during the day, which provides them with the most food, and less efficiently at night by locating prey by touch using their bills.

The study found that artificial light had a major impact on how redshanks searched for food, allowing them to forage more efficiently. At night, birds in brightly-lit areas foraged for longer and foraged by sight, rather than touch, compared with birds under darker night skies.

According to Dr Dwyer, who was based at the University's Cornwall campus at the time of the study: "Artificial light from industrial areas strongly influenced the foraging strategy of our tagged birds. It was as if the 24-hour light emitted from lamps and flares on the Grangemouth oil refinery site created, in effect, a perpetual full moon across the local inter-tidal area which the birds seemed to capitalise on by foraging for longer periods at night and switching to a potentially more effective foraging behaviour to locate prey."

The results contrast with other studies, which have found adverse effects of light pollution on wildlife. Previous research found artificial light caused newly-hatched turtles to head away from the sea, rather than towards it, and caused seabirds such as petrels to collide with lighthouses and other lit structures.

Named for their long bright orange or red legs, the common redshank is a medium-sized shorebird with a greyish brown back and wings in winter, and a black-tipped orange bill. On their wintering sites, the birds patrol estuaries and coastal lagoons feeding on molluscs, worms and crustaceans. Redshanks are generally very wary and nervous birds. Often the first to panic, they give noisy 'teu-hoo' alarm calls, earning them the nickname 'sentinel of the marshes'.

Redshanks are widely distributed, breeding and wintering across temperate Europe and Asia. Although numbers are in decline, the species is widespread and quite plentiful in some regions, and thus not considered a threatened species by the IUCN.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Exeter. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ross G. Dwyer, Stuart Bearhop, Hamish A. Campbell, David M. Bryant. Shedding light on light: benefits of anthropogenic illumination to a nocturnally foraging shorebird. Journal of Animal Ecology, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12012

Cite This Page:

University of Exeter. "Ecologists shed new light on effects of light pollution on wildlife." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121128093913.htm>.
University of Exeter. (2012, November 28). Ecologists shed new light on effects of light pollution on wildlife. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121128093913.htm
University of Exeter. "Ecologists shed new light on effects of light pollution on wildlife." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121128093913.htm (accessed October 30, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Galapagos Tortoises Bounce Back, But Ecosystem Lags

Galapagos Tortoises Bounce Back, But Ecosystem Lags

Newsy (Oct. 29, 2014) The Galapagos tortoise has made a stupendous recovery from the brink of extinction to a population of more than 1,000. But it still faces threats. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama: The US Will Not 'run and Hide' From Ebola

Obama: The US Will Not 'run and Hide' From Ebola

AP (Oct. 29, 2014) Surrounded by health care workers in the White House East Room, President Barack Obama said the U.S. will likely see additional Ebola cases in the weeks ahead. But he said the nation can't seal itself off in the fight against the disease. (Oct. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Oatmeal Healthy Recipes and Benefits

Oatmeal Healthy Recipes and Benefits

Buzz60 (Oct. 29, 2014) Oatmeal is a fantastic way to start your day. Whichever way you prepare them, oats provide your body with many health benefits. In celebration of National Oatmeal Day, Krystin Goodwin (@krystingoodwin) has a few recipe ideas, and tips on how to kickstart your day with this wholesome snack! Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
GoPro Video Gives a Lion's-Eye View of The Hunt

GoPro Video Gives a Lion's-Eye View of The Hunt

Buzz60 (Oct. 29, 2014) If you’ve ever wondered what getting takeout looks like for lions in Africa, the GoPro video from Lion Whisperer Kevin Richardson will give you a lion’s-eye view of the hunt. Jen Markham has more. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins