Artificial light at night affects plant‐herbivore interactions

Ellen Cieraad* (Corresponding author), Emily Strange, Melanie Flink, Maarten Schrama, Kamiel Spoelstra

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review


Artificial light at night (ALAN) affects species' physiology and behaviour, and the interactions between species. Despite the importance of plants as primary producers, it remains poorly understood whether and how effects of ALAN on plants cascade through the food web.
We assess the extent to which ALAN of different spectra result in plant-mediated insect herbivory damage. In a 6-month field experiment, we exposed plants of differing palatability to three colours of ALAN and a dark control, and assessed plant traits (growth rate, leaf size, foliar density and thickness) and insect herbivory (represented by insect damage as loss of foliage to leaf-chewing insects, and gall abundance by phloem-feeding herbivory).
We found evidence for plant trait-mediated ALAN effects on herbivory for oak, but not for blueberry. In oak, ALAN of different colours changed the direction of relationships of insect damage with relative growth rate and with leaf thickness. Moreover, we found that the effects of ALAN on herbivory damage differed markedly between forest types within the same locale, particularly in the red light treatment.
Synthesis and applications. Our results provide evidence that continuous night-time light, as provided by street lighting around the world, affects food web interactions. The nature of these effects differed by species and appeared to depend on forest type and the light spectrum employed, thus underlining the context dependency of ALAN in different ecosystems and environmental settings. These findings highlight the complexity of using spectral manipulation as a mitigation measure, and the need for further consideration of ALAN in environmental management and planning, to limit the exposure and impact of cascading effects of artificial light at night on food webs and communities.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Early online date09 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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