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Light Pollution Transforming Insect Communities

21st Jun 2012

Most people, when they hear the word pollution, think immediately of something dirty or wasteful that can clog lungs or destroy the environment.  Hardly anyone ever considers that man-made light, given off at night, could be considered pollution, but indeed there is such a thing as ‘light pollution’. There’s even an association that has been formed to study the effects of light pollution, the International Dark-Sky Association, or IDA. This just proves the theory that there’s an association for everything. All joking aside however the IDA defines light pollution as ‘any adverse effect of artificial light, sky glow, glare, light trespass, light clutter, decreased visibility at night and energy waste’. Wow, what a mouthful. For a number of years scientists have been studying the effects of light pollution on humans and other species to see what the effects of light pollution actually are, besides causing some to write a song about wearing sunglasses at night. Their goal is to see how man-made lighting is affecting us, and in order to do that they are starting, as scientists often do, at the bottom of the food chain. In fact, recently a group of researchers at the University of Exeter, in the United Kingdom, discovered that light pollution coming from street lamps is actually causing evolutionary changes in insects and other invertebrates. This is actually the very first study that shows how the balance of life between species is being affected and altered as a result of light pollution. Though not as scary sounding as, say, global warming, the actual long-term effects of light pollution could actually have consequences that go beyond dung beetles and spiders. If these smaller creatures are being affected scientists surmise that larger predators will be affected also, like birds and small mammals that rely on these bugs for food.  This could, with time, travel all the way up the food chain and affect an entire ecosystem, eventually affecting humans. Still, a lot more research has to be done to determine what the long term effects will be for us, besides having a hard time looking up at the stars at night to make a wish. A few centuries ago humans went through a period of great upheaval known as the ‘dark ages’.  Is it too soon to start thinking about the possibility of the ‘light ages’?  Only time will tell.