Light pollution is hot-wiring spring, scientists say

Light pollution in the UK is prompting spring to appear at least a week earlier than usual, a new study has found.

The report, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that the blossoming of trees now occurs up to 7.5 days earlier than usual in built-up, urban areas, which suffer badly from light pollution.  

The study highlights the need to carry out experimental investigations into the impact of artificial night-time lighting on phenology and species interactions.

Professor Richard ffrench-Constant

“The study highlights the need to carry out experimental investigations into the impact of artificial night-time lighting on phenology and species interactions,” Professor Richard ffrench-Constant from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation, said of the results.

Caterpillars 

The changing time of spring causes problems for insects such as the winter moth, which lays its eggs so that caterpillars will hatch at the same time as the trees start to produce their first leaves.

Hatching a week too late means that caterpillars have to eat tough leaves filled with tannin, which is a natural pest defence. This then has a knock-on effect, reducing the amount of food available for birds.

The authors of the study are emphasising the need for further research into the impacts of differing wavelengths or qualities of light that can be generated by different lighting types.

The study used data collected from citizen scientists across the UK. 

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