Grant of over £1m awarded to study impact of the loss of darkness on wildlife

A team of researchers at the University of Glasgow have been awarded a grant of over £1m to study the impact of the loss of the night on animals that are subjected to the increased light at night that occurs in urban areas throughout the world.

The project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), totals £1.4m and has been awarded to Dr Davide Dominoni, together with Professor Pat Monaghan and Dr Simon Babayan from the University’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, and Professor Barbara Helm, from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.


The grant comes from a NERC special fund to address pressing and important environmental challenges.

Animals, including ourselves, have evolved body rhythms that are synchronised to daily and seasonal cycles of light and dark. This natural pattern is increasingly compromised by the spread of night-time illumination that comes with progressive urbanization. Across the globe, more than half of the human population now lives in cities, and darkness is being lost at ever faster rates. In humans, negative effects of disrupted day-night rhythms, such as loss of sleep and compromised health, are causing concerns, but the potential consequences for wildlife are still largely unstudied.

The work will involve different wild bird species across gradients of light pollution from urban to rural environments. Dr Dominoni said: “We are thrilled to receive this grant from NERC. What we hope to achieve is a thorough understanding of the extent to which urban light pollution disrupts normal rhythms of behaviour and physiology in animals in urban environments, whether this disruption is associated with negative health consequences, and whether selected lighting strategies can mitigate adverse effects.”

Key points of the study:

  • Birds of six different species will be tagged with miniature transmitters and their activity and movements along gradients of light pollution will be continuously recorded.
  • We will then investigate the physiological effects of exposure to night light, with a particular focus on the immune system and accelerated ageing.
  • We will experimentally test different mitigation strategies, including part-night lighting.
  • Light pollution in the UK:

The grant is part of around £24 million funding from the NERC for research on major environmental issues such as the impact of microplastics in our oceans, the UK potential for geothermal power and mitigating climate change have been funded under the fourth round of NERC highlight topics.

Around £24m has been split between 14 research projects spanning a wide range of important topics generated by the UK environmental science community. The selection of highlight topic projects is a competitive process to ensure that the most excellent science is funded.

From understanding how soil can capture carbon to investigating the impact of light pollution on coastal creatures, these awards fund research areas essential to help us understand our environment and how we live within it.

NERC Association Director of Research Ned Garnett said: “The highlight topics programme allows us to receive ideas from both the research community and users of environmental science to ensure that we are providing funding where it is most needed. The provision of top quality environmental research has never been more essential as we continue to tackle some of the greatest environmental challenges of our time.”

NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is part of UK Research & Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.


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First published: 13 December 2018