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Artificial night sky poses serious threat to coastal species - University of Plymouth

Street lighting creates an artificial glow in the night sky above Plymouth and the surrounding areas (Credit Thomas Davies, University of Plymouth)
Street lighting creates an artificial glow in the night sky above Plymouth and the surrounding areas (Credit Thomas Davies, University of Plymouth)

A new study shows the skyglow created by street lighting in towns and cities can lead to certain species travelling towards the sea and away from food

The artificial lighting which lines the world’s coastlines could be having a significant impact on species that rely on the moon and stars to find food, new research suggests.

Creatures such as the sand hopper (Talitrus saltator) orientate their nightly migrations based on the moon’s position and brightness of the natural night sky.

However, a study by the University of Plymouth and Bangor University shows the presence of artificial light originating from cities several kilometres away (also known as artificial skyglow) disrupts the lunar compass they use when covering long distances.

In some cases, this can lead to them travelling towards the sea and away from food, while in others it reduces the chance of them venturing out on forays for food at all.

Writing in Current Biology, researchers say this could pose a distinct threat not just to the health of sand hopper populations but also the wider ecosystem, since they play an important role in breaking down and recycling algae washed up on strandlines.

The study was conducted as part of the Artificial Light Impacts on Coastal Ecosystems (ALICE) project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

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