Artificial light at night has shown a dramatic increase over the last decades and continues to increase. Light at night can have strong effects on the behaviour and physiology of species, which includes changes in the daily timing of activity; a clear example is the advance in dawn song onset in songbirds by low levels of light at night. Although such effects are often referred to as changes in circadian timing, i.e. changes to the internal clock, two alternative mechanisms are possible. First, light at night can change the timing of clock controlled activity, without any change to the clock itself; e.g. by a change in the phase relation between the circadian clock and expression of activity. Second, changes in daily activity can be a direct response to light (‘masking’), without any involvement of the circadian system. Here, we studied whether the advance in onset of activity by dim light at night in great tits (Parus major) is indeed attributable to a phase shift of the internal clock. We entrained birds to a normal light/dark (LD) cycle with bright light during daytime and darkness at night, and to a comparable (LDim) schedule with dim light at night. The dim light at night strongly advanced the onset of activity of the birds. After at least six days in LD or LDim, we kept birds in constant darkness (DD) by leaving off all lights so birds would revert to their endogenous, circadian system controlled timing of activity. We found that the timing of onset in DD was not dependent on whether the birds were kept at LD or LDim before the measurement. Thus, the advance of activity under light at night is caused by a direct effect of light rather than a phase shift of the internal clock. This demonstrates that birds are capable of changing their daily activity to low levels of light at night directly, without the need to alter their internal clock.
|Journal||Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences|
|Publication status||Published - 28 Mar 2018|
- artificial light at night
- light pollution
- circadian period
- circadian phase