Home Environment Not Just the Bees: Light Pollution & What You Can Do

Not Just the Bees: Light Pollution & What You Can Do

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The effects of climate change and its impact on bees is widely discussed, but there is a culprit which is impacting the entire insect population:  light pollution.
     
Light pollution is caused by artificial light, mostly during the evenings.  It can affect hunting patterns, migration patterns, and even obscure mating signals in some insects.  It might not seem like a huge cause of the decline of insect populations; but when coupled with chemical pollution, loss of habitats, and a changing climate, it is affecting both diurnal and nocturnal species of insects across the world.

     It is estimated that light pollution now affects an entire quarter of the surface of land across the globe.  A few hundred years ago, the impact of lighting wasn’t affecting insects to the degree we are seeing now.  Today, some insect populations have declined to the extent of population collapse in Puerto Rico and Germany—and some researchers have said that we are witness to the “insect apocalypse.”

     For insects relying on the light levels at night to guide their biological rhythms, an increase in light at night can thoroughly dysregulate their mating habits.  This threatens the balance of species vs. invasive species in the earth’s ecosystem. The most common example of artificial light impacting insects can be seen in moths who are so attracted to porch lights or car headlights that they die from constantly circling them, but there are many others.  Some of these insects include beetles, fruit flies, crickets and even worms.  Even some parasitic wasps are so highly tuned into light that the detection of artificial light can make the wasps blind to their prey.

     Insects also rely on light concentrations to find food, which drives insects who avoid lighted areas away from heavily light-polluted regions when looking for food.  Driving away insects from foraging for food in certain areas, disrupting biological rhythms such as mating and development, and lights that cause an early demise of insects also points to an increase in insect predation.  Predatory creatures (such as spiders, bats, lizards, rats, etc.) know to hunt and trap insects around light sources.  This increase in predation can cause extinction of insect species that are affected by light pollution at a much faster rate than would have occurred without the detrimental effect of light pollution.

     There are some easy solutions to combatting light pollution, and it involves just turning lights off when not necessary.  Some solutions include motion-activated lights and providing light only in the areas it is needed through the use of shades. Other wise choices would be to use LED lights (which can reduce the effects of light pollution because they don’t flicker as much) and trying to avoid the use of blue-white lights (they disrupt day/night rhythms).  Some supporters believe that a governmental light-reduction would be a wise choice–but since many people are so unaware of this environmental phenomenon, it’s unlikely to gain any traction in the near future.

     Until then, keep planting for the bees, and reduce your light impact when possible for the rest of the bugs.


References
1. Owens, Avalon C.S., et al. “Light Pollution Is a Driver of Insect Declines.” Biological Conservation, 16 Nov. 2019, doi:doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108259.

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