Light pollution from industrialization, urban and suburban development is spreading rapidly across the world. It is estimated that 20% of land on earth is polluted by artificial light (Cinzano et al., 2001). An increasing range of wild animal species are being exposed to levels of night-time light higher than ever before. It is estimated that the average amount of light reaching the ground from one street lamp is 50 lux, compared to 0.1 lux of bright moonlight (Bennie et al., 2016) (Figure 1). Car headlights may reach over 1,000 lux, some 10,000 higher than natural night time light exposure. These levels of artificial light have been shown to affect a range of animal taxa from mammals to birds, reptiles and insects. The impacts of artificial light on amphibians appear to be varied, depending on the species and their ecology (reviewed in Dutta, 2018). For example, the calling behaviour of many frog species appears to be affected, with individuals calling less frequently and moving more often. This has the potential for decreasing mating opportunities and negatively impacting on subsequent spawning success. However, certain species, such as the cane toad (Bufo marinus) appear to benefit from street lights, foraging more often on the insects which congregate beneath them at night. On the contrary, red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) from North America forage less under artificial light, hiding in the leaf litter. This may have consequences on an individual’s ability to effectively forage and feed at night. Road mortality may be increased in areas of artificial light as has been shown in the American toad (Bufo americanus), which is attracted to street lighting and is more likely to cross roads (Mazerolle, 2004). Indirect effects of artificial light may include increased detection by predators and subsequent mortality of amphibians.
Artificial light may impact a range of amphibian life stages including the growth, development and activity of larvae, juveniles and adults. Our understanding of how artificial light may impact each life-stage is not fully understood. Dananay & Benard (2018) carried out experiments to determine the impacts of artificial light on larval and juvenile American toads. The researchers did not find any significant impact of artificial light on larval growth or behaviour, but juvenile American toads were affected. Juvenile toads under artificial light treatment were more active than those under dark treatments and had growth rates 15% lower than those in dark treatments. This increased nocturnal activity by juveniles under artificial light conditions appears to have resulted in increased energy expenditure and thus reduced growth rates (Dananay & Benard, 2018). This reduced growth may result in delayed reproductive maturity, lower fertility and reduced survival. Combined with other stressors, such as climate change, this could lead to population declines in many of our common amphibian species.
Habitats restored for recreational purposes, as well as for wildlife, including amphibians, are often situated close to towns and cities. The light intensity reaching wetland areas close to cities may be greater than the brightest full moon (Secondi et al., 2017). Common toads (Bufo bufo), may be particularly affected by increased levels of artificial light as they have a very short breeding season and may use light to orient towards ponds and aid in synchronicity in breeding. Touzet et al. (2019) carried out research on the common toad in France to examine toad behaviour under artificial light generated by street and outdoor lighting in semi-urban areas. After 20 days of nocturnal exposure during the breeding period at 5 lux the total time spent active by male common toads decreased by more than half; at 20 lux activity levels dropped by 73%. This was due to male toads being less active during nocturnal periods (Touzet et al., 2019). In addition, common toads decreased their active energy expenditure by 18% at 5 lux and 38% at 20 lux, probably due to increased stress (Touzet et al., 2019). The authors conclude that the alteration of both activity and energy metabolism could have negative impacts on common toad reproduction and ultimately lead to a reduction in survival.
The impacts of artificial light on amphibians may not always be negative and some species seem to be resistant to anthropogenic light sources at night. Underhill & Höbel (2018) tested the effects of artificial light on the breeding behaviour of female eastern gray treefrogs (Hyla versicolor). Contrary to expectation, the researchers found no effects of artificial light on mating preferences and breeding behaviour. In this species, increased levels of artificial light should not affect population persistence nor affect mate choice. This is in contrast to túngara frogs (Engystomops pustulosus) which changed their behaviour under different light conditions in a way that suggested that they felt safer under darker conditions (Rand et al., 1997). Frog species vary in their sensitivity to light and the degree that they use visual cues for orientation and reproduction. The eastern gray treefrog does not rely heavily on visual cues for mate selection which may explain the lack of significant impacts of artificial light on their breeding behaviour (Underhill & Höbel, 2018).
It appears that there is no consistent and universal impact of artificial light on amphibians. The response seems to vary by species depending on their ecology and breeding biology and their reliance on visual cues. In addition, responses by individual populations are likely to vary depending on location and the amount of artificial light. However, in many cases it appears that artificial light may have negative impacts on amphibian populations. Further research is required at a population level to determine the long-term impacts of artificial light and possible synergistic interactions with other environmental stresses such as habitat loss, fragmentation, pollutants and climate change.
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Touzot, M., Teulier, L., Langagne, T., Secondi, J., Théry, M., Libourel, P., Guillard, L. & Mondy, N. (2019) Artificial light at night disturbs the activity and energy allocation of the common toad during the breeding period. Conservation Physiology, 7 (1): coz002; doi:10.1093/conphys/coz002
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