Artificial light and cloud cover interact to disrupt celestial migrations at night

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The growth of human activity and infrastructure has led to an unprecedented rise in the use of Artificial Light at Night (ALAN) with demonstrable impacts on ecological communities and ecosystem services. However, there remains very little information on how ALAN interacts with or obscures light from celestial bodies, which provide vital orientating cues in a number of species. Furthermore, no studies to date have examined how climatic conditions such as cloud cover, known to influence the intensity of skyglow, interact with lunar irradiance and ALAN over the course of a lunar cycle to alter migratory abilities of species.
Our night-time field study aimed to establish how lunar phase and climatic conditions (cloud cover) modulate the impact of ALAN on the abundance and migratory behaviour of Talitrus saltator, a key sandy beach detritivore which uses multiple light associated cues during nightly migrations. Our results showed that the number and size of individuals caught decreased significantly as ALAN intensity increased. Additionally, when exposed to ALAN more T. saltator were caught travelling parallel to the shoreline, indicating that the presence of ALAN is inhibiting their ability to navigate along their natural migration route, potentially impacting the distribution of the population. We found that lunar phase and cloud cover play a significant role in modifying the impact of ALAN, highlighting the importance of incorporating natural light cycles and climatic conditions when investigating ALAN impacts. Critically we demonstrate that light levels as low as 3 lux can have substantial effects on coastal invertebrate distributions. Our results provide the first evidence that ALAN impacted celestial migration can lead to changes to the distribution of a species.
Original languageEnglish
Article number173790
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date6 Jun 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Jun 2024
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