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The Impact Of Light On Wildlife

There are many areas of human influence on the world around us that are much debated, such as our impact on climate change.

One thing that can't be argued about is the impact we have had on night time, or more specifically, how we have made the night a lot lighter and brighter. Ask any astronomer, and they will no doubt bemoan the fact they have to travel to the top of some Chilean mountain, or similar, to get good quality black sky, around towns and cities there is so much light pollution that it can actually mean the sky is merely an orange haze at night.

What many people are less appreciative of is the amount of problems that light causes for animals that are nocturnal to a lesser or greater extent. We've all seen insects buzzing around a bright light, but in fact many creatures such as birds can be attracted to light, confused by it, and this can lead to problems and even death for those creatures as a result.

Different colours of light lead to different problems for various creatures: for instane whilst ultraviolet really strongly attracts insects, at the other end of the scale red light can have a profound affect on birds and their ability to know where they are.

Combine buildings which we all know birds can fly into in daylight with bright lights, and the building being a skyscraper, and staggering figures emerge: for some large buildings that keep records of impacts you hear stories of thousands of bird impacts with the building each and every year.

Green and yellow light between the extremes of the ultraviolet and red can also attract some creatures, typically at that wavelength it might be amphibians, so all types of light can be negative to some wildlife.

Faced with this, the energy crisis and using up our reserves, it seems that the best solution would be to try and encourage a see change in practice, so that buildings turn off their lights at night when they don't need them, and that lights are made dimmer unless it is essential for security and safety that they are at their current brightness. This would be good news for animals - and astronomers!

Date published: 26 Jul 2010

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