Does light pollution alter daylength? A test using light loggers on free-ranging European blackbirds (Turdus merula)

Dominoni, D. M. and Partecke, J. (2015) Does light pollution alter daylength? A test using light loggers on free-ranging European blackbirds (Turdus merula). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 370(1667), 20140118. (doi: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0118) (PMID:25780232)

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Artificial light at night is one of the most apparent environmental changes accompanying anthropogenic habitat change. The global increase in light pollution poses new challenges to wild species, but we still have limited understanding of the temporal and spatial pattern of exposure to light at night. In particular, it has been suggested by several studies that animals exposed to light pollution, such as songbirds, perceive a longer daylength compared with conspecifics living in natural darker areas, but direct tests of such a hypothesis are still lacking. Here, we use a combination of light loggers deployed on individual European blackbirds, as well as automated radio-telemetry, to examine whether urban birds are exposed to a longer daylength than forest counterparts. We first used activity data from forest birds to determine the level of light intensity which defines the onset and offset of daily activity in rural areas. We then used this value as threshold to calculate the subjective perceived daylength of both forest and urban blackbirds. In March, when reproductive growth occurs, urban birds were exposed on average to a 49-min longer subjective perceived daylength than forest ones, which corresponds to a 19-day difference in photoperiod at this time of the year. In the field, urban blackbirds reached reproductive maturity 19 day earlier than rural birds, suggesting that light pollution could be responsible of most of the variation in reproductive timing found between urban and rural dwellers. We conclude that light at night is the most relevant change in ambient light affecting biological rhythms in avian urban-dwellers, most likely via a modification of the perceived photoperiod.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Dominoni, Dr Davide
Authors: Dominoni, D. M., and Partecke, J.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Biodiversity, One Health & Veterinary Medicine
Journal Name:Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Publisher:The Royal Society
ISSN (Online):1471-2970

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