The duration of artificial light defines sexual signalling in the common glow-worm.

Christina Barbro Cecilia Elgert, Topi Kasperi Lehtonen, Arja Leena Kaitala, Ulrika Candolin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Artificial light at night is increasing globally, interfering with both sensory ecology and temporal rhythms of organisms, from zooplankton to mammals. This interference can change the behaviour of the affected organisms, and hence compromise the viability of their populations. Limiting the use of artificial light may mitigate these negative effects. Accordingly, we investigated whether the duration of artificial light affects sexual signalling in female glow-worms, Lampyris noctiluca, which are flightless and attract flying males to mate by emitting glow that is interfered by light pollution. The study included three treatments: no artificial light (control), 15 min of artificial light, and 45 min of artificial light. The results show that females were more likely to cease glowing when the exposure to light was longer. Furthermore, small females were more likely to cease their glow, and responded faster to the light, than larger females. These findings suggest that glow-worms can react rapidly to anthropogenic changes in nocturnal light levels, and that prolonged periods of artificial light trigger females to stop sexual signalling. Thus, limiting the duration of artificial light can mitigate the adverse effects of light pollution on sexual signalling, highlighting the importance of such mitigation measures.

Significance statement

Interest in the effects of artificial light at night on animal behaviour has increased in recent years. With evidence for its negative impact accumulating, potential remedies, such as limiting the duration of light exposure, have emerged. To date, however, knowledge on the effectiveness of these methods has remained very limited. We show that female European common glow-worms, which are wingless beetles that glow to attract flying males to mate, responded to prolonged artificial light exposure by discontinuing their glow. Such non-glowing females are not expected to find a mate, making it difficult for them to reproduce. Hence, our study indicates that the duration of artificial light should be limited to protect this night-active beetle and its opportunities for effective sexual signalling. Because many other nocturnal species also need darkness, this study provides valuable information for the development and use of less disruptive night-time lights.

Original languageEnglish
Article number154
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
  • ALAN
  • Environmental change
  • Light pollution
  • Mate choice
  • Sexual selection
  • Signal

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