Climate surveillance radar information exhibits 45 million bugs withdrawing over brightly lit metropolis | NSF


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Weather surveillance radar data shows that 45 million insects are flying over a brightly lit city

The expansion of artificial night light has important effects on animal behavior and health

Scientists used weather radar to track how insects respond to artificial night light.

April 15, 2021

The spread of artificial night lights around the world has had important effects on animal behavior and health. A new study by researchers from the University of Oklahoma on the effects of bright city lights on locusts appears in the journal Biology Letters.

Elske Tielens is the main author. “City lights at night triggers a macro-scale response in an insect population,” she said. “It is the first analysis of lights at night for insect movements on a regional level.”

The study was supported by the US National Science Foundation.

Analyzing the weather surveillance radar data in June and July 2019, Tielens and colleagues found that around 45 million locusts – a “biblical plague” – flew at peak times and concentrated on city lights such as the Las Vegas Strip. The researchers also found daily movement cycles of ascent at dusk towards illuminated urban areas.

This study is new, Tielens said, because the effects of artificial light at night on insects have not been quantitatively documented on a large scale. It shows how insects interact with the landscape, including with man-made environments. As humans continue to have an impact on the environment, understanding the effects of artificial light on insect populations is important, the researchers said. The knowledge can help scientists conserve the diverse world of insects and control important pest species.

According to the scientists, weather radar has not yet been used to track how insects react to artificial night light. “We know that the airspace directly above us is an essential habitat for most animals, but we don’t know much about how our activities affect life in the air,” said co-author Jeffrey Kelly. “This study shows that the effects of artificial light at night on locust behavior are to a large extent ubiquitous.”

Doug Levey, program director in NSF’s Environmental Biology division, added, “Our incredibly widespread use of lights to help you see better at night has likely created all sorts of effects we can’t see. Locusts flying over cities might be turn out to be the tip of an ecological iceberg. “

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