Understanding population level effects of artificial lighting on biodiversity - a novel interdisciplinary approach using bats as models

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Life Sciences


The expansion of urban areas (urbanisation) is a key driver of global change, a significant factor in species extinctions and a major threat to biological diversity. Artificial lighting associated with urbanisation has been identified as a key threat, ranked within the top ten emerging issues in global biodiversity conservation. Artificial lighting is increasing globally by 2% per year and nearly one quarter of the world's land surface inhabited by humans is impacted by artificial lighting. Studies have shown that some bat species are sensitive to artificial lighting as a result of their habitat preferences, echolocation calls, and physical characteristics.

The ability of populations to respond to artificial lighting depends on the nature and speed of change in artificial lighting across the landscape and their ability to adapt to such changes. Species ability to adapt is a function of their physiological characteristics, how diverse the species are genetically, and their movement ability. Artificial lighting creates barriers to animal movement which can prevent populations from breeding and may have implications for population growth, ability to adapt and long-term survival. Despite a better recent understanding of the impacts of artificial lighting on animal behaviour, no studies have assessed the combined impacts on species genetic make-up, breeding and fitness.

We will combine ecological, genomic and physiological techniques to assess the effects of artificial lighting on stress, genetic structure and breeding success in the brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus), a light sensitive species that commonly roosts in buildings. We will carry out field experiments artificially illuminating bat roosts to identify the genetic responses to lights and the effects of light on bat behaviour when exiting roosts. We will also trap bats in areas exposed to different levels of artificial lighting across urban and rural areas in England and Wales to determine effects of lighting on bat fitness, and genetic diversity between populations. Finally we will assess whether artificial lighting fragments the landscape and affects movement between bat populations, and ask whether bats can adapt to long-term exposure to artificial lighting.

This project will address scientific and conservation challenges of global importance, pushing the scientific boundaries within global change research. We will fill the gaps in our understanding of the population level impacts of artificial lighting, specifically, impacts on breeding success, connectivity between bat populations, bat conservation status and the potential for adaptation. We will lead the creation of a novel theme in global change research "urban adaptation biology" which seeks to assess the real-time impacts of urbanisation and associated threats on species ability to adapt using approaches and tools that span across academic disciplines.

Key to this project is the application of project findings to inform environmental management and policy. Through our partnership with governmental bodies (Natural England) and planners (North Somerset Council, Somerset Council) we will produce a policy brief and industry guidance for planners and conservation managers. We will work with established industrial collaborators the Institution of Lighting Professionals and TRT Lighting Ltd, to lead research into the impact of emerging lighting technologies on wildlife.


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