Experimental illumination of natural habitat: How does artificial light influence daily and seasonal timing?

K. Spoelstra, Roy H. A. van Grunsven, Frank Berendse, Elmar M. Veenendaal, M.E. Visser

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterScientific


Artificial illumination has increased dramatically over the last few decades. In natural habitat, anthropogenic light at night may lead to changes in species composition and differences in population densities. On the individual level, the presence of artificial light may disturb the temporal organization of daily and seasonal activity. Although there is a gradual increase in knowledge on the impact of artificial light, most studies so far are correlative and make use of existing illumination. In order to experimentally study the ecological effects of artificial illumination and to assess whether these effects depend on the spectral composition of the light, we have set up a worldwide unique, large-scale research project at eight study sites in natural areas in the Netherlands. On each site, we illuminate a forest edge along three 0.5 ha transects with white, red, and green light, and leave one transect dark. Since early 2011, we have assessed the presence of many species and species groups at all sites. Birds, mice, bats, moths, ground-dwelling insects and plants are monitored following rigid protocols; where possible we do this automatically with special equipment. Since early 2012, the lights are on from dusk to dawn and we continue to measure biodiversity and species density until the end of 2014. We study many more effects of light in different species groups; and a key element of the project is the assessment of temporal changes in physiology and behaviour. Each year, we monitor the laying date and breeding success of nest-box breeding bird species. Daily activity patterns of birds are recorded with the use of transponders and transponder readers around the nest box entrances. With automatic cameras and ultrasound recorders, we follow the activity patterns of mice and bats, respectively. Here we show the first effects of light in our experimental setup on the seasonal behaviour of birds breeding at the sites, and daily activity patterns in mice. In order to maximally utilize our setup, and to gain as much information as possible on ecological changes in response to illumination, we encourage other scientists to do research at our illuminated field sites.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2013


  • light pollution
  • nature conservation
  • field ecology


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