In the past, we have talked about the effects that light pollution has on the environment, but a new report now states that street lighting can also substantially change the ecology of ground-dwelling invertebrates and insects, in turn impacting local ecosystems.

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In the report published in Biology Letters, the team from the University of Exeter, led by Thomas Davies, studied nearly 1,200 insects in areas under and between street lights in Helston in Cornwall. Their research found that invertebrate predators and scavengers were more common near the lights, even during the day. The scientific team believe that artificial lighting can influence organism behavior, reproductive success and survivorship and, as a result, drastically affect the composition of communities.

“We show, for the first time, that invertebrate community composition is affected by proximity to street lighting independently of the time of day. Five major invertebrate groups contributed to compositional differences, resulting in an increase in the number of predatory and scavenging individuals in brightly lit communities. Our results indicate that street lighting changes the environment at higher levels of biological organization than previously recognized, raising the potential that it can alter the structure and function of ecosystems,” the research team said in a statement.

“This study now seems to be indicating that those transient, nocturnal effects on the behaviour of the animals are actually being translated into the habitat preferences of the animals in the daytime as well,” Dr. Davies said. “It’s amazing how long we’ve been using street lighting and artificial lighting, and how little research has been done on the impact of those lights on the environment.”

Speaking to BBC News, Davies stressed that his team’s research only showed a small piece of the impact that street lighting had, and that future studies should investigate the wider-ranging environmental effects.

“Invertebrates in the UK at least are undergoing a bit of a biodiversity crisis and have been for some time now, and they’re very important for a number of ecosystem services such as pollination and the breakdown of organic matter,” he explained. “So the impact of street lights on invertebrate communities could be very, very important, could be problematic, but we simply don’t know at the moment – we need to do the research.”

Of course, to get rid of street lighting would raise certain safety concerns, but it is worrying to realize the effect they have on such small creatures.

+ Biology Letters / University of Exeter

Via BBC News

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