Light Pollution Tied to Insect Decline

With more than 1.5 million identified species, insects are the most plentiful animals on our planet. There are 3x as many insects in the world than all of the other animals combined. They are found in virtually every habitat, feed on a vast array of food, and play a critical role in our ecosystem – even if they are mostly unappreciated.

Without insects, our lives would be vastly different. Insects are prolific pollinators, and without them, we wouldn’t have many of the fruits, flowers, and vegetables we enjoy. Insects are essential to the production of honey, beeswax, silk, and other everyday items. But insects are beneficial for many more reasons.

Light Pollution night photography landscape long exposure scale
Best practices for outdoor lighting. Help combat light pollution.

Benefits of Insects

Many insects are predatory or parasitic, which means they play a role in controlling pest populations. Insects break down and dispose of wastes, dead animals and plants, keeping the environment cleaner and more functional. Insects are also the sole food source for many other species up the food chain, including humans in many parts of the world.

Given the crucial role of insects in the world, the scientific community is understandably alarmed at the sharp decline in insect populations globally. Experts estimate that up to 40% of the world’s insect species could disappear over the next several decades. Although climate change and habitat loss are traditionally cited as the enemy in this war, there is a new villain which has come to the forefront – light pollution.

What is Light Pollution? Light pollution is created when artificial light is present in the natural environment. Although cities are the most glaring offenders, even suburbs and rural areas can contribute to the demise of natural light and natural environmental conditions that nature needs to thrive.

Light Pollution May Be Driving the “Insect Apocalypse”

‘Light Pollution is a Driver of Insect Declines’ is the title of a new research paper published last month in the scientific journal BIOLOGICAL CONSERVATION. (Owens, Perkin, Seymour 2019). A subsequent article published in The Guardian called the worldwide decline an “insect apocalypse,” further stressing the severity and urgency of the situation.

In the groundbreaking study, researchers reviewed over 200 studies that looked at the impact that artificial light has on insect species. They noted that while one-quarter of the earth is covered by artificial light, 50% of insect species are nocturnal. Their natural foraging, predatory, and reproductive cycles are severely impacted and interrupted by the presence of street lights, neon signs, and even artificial light streaming from a homeowner’s windows. In fact, with so many people camping and RVing these days, even areas which have traditionally been “wild” and remained natural are often invaded by artificial lighting elements – not only light bulbs but campfires which are generally not present in their habitat.

Because the human race – and all life on earth – is so dependent on insects thriving, experts have sounded the alarm and encouraged action.

In November of 2019, The Zoological Lighting Institute announced the ‘Insect Apocalypse Campaign’ to highlight the links between insect conservation and other worldwide crises, such as hunger epidemics. Institute Director Dr. James Karl Fischer stated, “Insects are lynch-pins of the environment, and are central not only to wild food chains but also human food security. Insects can’t survive under current levels of artificial lighting, and we can’t survive without them.”

The campaign hopes to convince people to do their part by extinguishing exterior lighting and shading windows whenever possible. The campaign has first to convince people of the importance of saving the insects, which many people view as pests and often have an attitude of “we are better off without them.” Experts hope the campaign will educate people that just the opposite is true. Our way of life will be radically changed if we do not step in to stop the “insect apocalypse.”


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