Short-time exposure to light at night affects incubation patterns and correlates with subsequent body weight in great tits (Parus major)

Aurelia F.T. Strauß* (Corresponding author), Lies Bosma, Marcel E. Visser, Barbara Helm

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review


Artificial light at night (ALAN) widely affects wildlife by blurring light-dark differences, including transitions such as sunrise and sunset, thereby affecting regulation of diel rhythms. As a result, activity onsets in many wild diurnal songbirds advance under ALAN. From chronobiological studies, it is known that the direction and strength of the response to light depends on when during the night exposure takes place. However, these experiments are mostly done under continuous light conditions, when animals have free-running rhythms. It remains unclear whether phase-dependence also holds in entrained, wild songbirds; i.e., does the effect of ALAN on activity patterns differ between exposure in the morning compared to the evening? This information is essential to assess the effects of mitigation measures by limiting ALAN to selected times of the night. We exposed incubating great tits (Parus major) inside the nest-box to 4 h of dim light, of which 1 h overlapped with dawn before sunrise or dusk after sunset. We found a small advancing effect of morning-light on activity onset and of evening-light on offset compared to dark controls but not vice versa. Breeding success and chick condition were unaffected by the light treatments. However, light-treated females had lower weights 9–18 days after the end of the treatment compared to the controls, independent of whether ALAN occurred in the morning or the evening, indicating possible costs of ALAN. Despite the weak behavioral response, ALAN might have affected the females' circadian clock or physiology resulting in lower body condition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)364-376
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology
Issue number4
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 08 Feb 2024


  • artificial light
  • circadian
  • female
  • part-night lighting
  • phase-dependent effects
  • rhythm
  • wildlife


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