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Title: Impacts of artificial nighttime light on moths and their food plants
Author: Somers-Yeates, Robin Huw
ISNI:       0000 0004 7225 8158
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2017
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Over the last 150 years the natural nighttime environment has been drastically altered by the proliferation of artificial light. The amount of artificial light at night is on the increase, and there is a current trend to replace older lighting with more energy efficient types such as light emitting diodes (LEDs) or ceramic metal halide; in Cornwall, UK, there has been a relatively recent replacement of the street lighting, from low pressure sodium to ceramic metal halide. Alongside the increasing amount of artificial nighttime light, recent research has highlighted declines in macro moth numbers. Given the well-known ‘flight-to-light’ behaviour of moths, and the negative effects this behaviour can have, alongside other known and potential ways in which nighttime light can affect moths, the increasing amount of artificial light in the environment is a suspected contributor to the declines. It is particularly important to understand how modern lighting technologies will impact upon moths, as different spectra of light are known to vary in terms of how attractive they are. As a means to determine the potential impact of different street lighting types on moths, particularly the ceramic metal halide lighting rolled out in Cornwall, UK, we compared the attractiveness to macro moths, of a number of increasingly used, energy efficient, street lighting types. We found that shorter wavelength metal halide lighting attracted significantly more individuals and species of moth than longer wavelength high pressure sodium lighting. In a second experiment, we also found ceramic metal halide lighting to be more attractive to macro moths than LED lighting. Reduced emissions of short wavelength UV light was deemed the likely reason behind the fewer macro moths attracted to the high pressure sodium and LED lighting. Interestingly, we also found striking differences in the relative attractiveness of the different lighting types to different moth groups. The metal halide lighting attracted significantly more Noctuidae than high pressure sodium lighting, whereas both high pressure sodium and metal halide lighting were equally attractive to Geometridae. Understanding accurately the extent to which different groups of moth are attracted to different wavelengths of light could be useful in determining the impact of artificial light on moth populations. In addition to impacting moths through attraction, artificial light has the potential to alter the day length as perceived by organisms, which at mid- to high latitudes is utilised by certain species as an abiotic cue to ensure the coincidence of development with favourable environmental conditions. Due to a paucity of knowledge on how raised ambient nighttime light levels affect moths and the trophic levels with which they interact, we carried out analyses into the impact of nighttime light on the winter moth and its host plant oak; a well-studied model system, where synchrony between moth egg hatch and oak budburst is important for the moth’s survival. Firstly we carried out an analysis looking at the relationship between the amount of nighttime light and the date of oak budburst. Spatially referenced budburst dates were matched with satellite imagery of nighttime lighting and average spring temperature data, and the relationship between the variables was analysed. Model predictions suggested that oak budburst occurs earlier in brighter areas. In addition, the predicted advance of budburst in brighter areas was still apparent when analysing only the data points that fell outside of large urban areas, where the urban heat island effect is likely reduced. The findings suggested that artificial nighttime light may be causing an advance in oak budburst. To follow up the spatial analysis we carried out a field experiment. We used light cages that simulated various nighttime lighting scenarios to test whether oak budburst and winter moth egg hatch were affected by low intensity light at night. In contrast to the spatial analysis, there was no significant relationship found between light treatment and the phenology of either oak budburst or winter moth egg hatch. However, there was a suggestion in the data that the higher buds of the oak saplings emerged earlier in the yellow light treatment, highlighting the need for further research into the potential impact of artificial nighttime light on phenology and species interactions. In conclusion, the findings of this research project provide information useful to those seeking ecologically sensitive lighting solutions, and also highlight a potential tool to assist in determining whether light at night is a causative factor behind apparent moth declines. In addition, they suggest that artificial light at night may be affecting the phenology of an ecological system at a national scale. Finally, this research project has highlighted the complexity of the ecological impacts of artificial light at night, and also a need for further research.
Supervisor: Ffrench-Constant, Richard ; McGregor, Peter K. ; Spalding, Adrian ; Hodgson, David Sponsor: European Social Fund (ESF) ; Great Western Research (GWR)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: light pollution ; macro moths ; phenology ; species interactions ; ecological impacts ; street lighting ; artificial night lighting ; oak budburst