Skyglow relieves a crepuscular bird from visual constraints on being active

Ruben Evens, Michiel Lathouwers, Jean Nicolas Pradervand, Andreas Jechow, Christopher Conrad Maximillian Kyba, Tom Shatwell, Alain Jacot, Eddy Ulenaers, Bart Kempenaers, Marcel Eens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Artificial light at night significantly alters the predictability of the natural light cycles that most animals use as an essential Zeitgeber for daily activity. Direct light has well-documented local impacts on activity patterns of diurnal and nocturnal organisms. However, artificial light at night also contributes to an indirect illumination of the night sky, called skyglow, which is rapidly increasing. The consequences of this wide-spread form of artificial night light on the behaviour of animals remain poorly understood, with only a few studies performed under controlled (laboratory) conditions. Using animal-borne activity loggers, we investigated daily and seasonal flight activity of a free-living crepuscular bird species in response to nocturnal light conditions at sites differing dramatically in exposure to skyglow. We find that flight activity of European Nightjars (Caprimulgus europaeus) during moonless periods of the night is four times higher in Belgium (high skyglow exposure) than in sub-tropical Africa and two times higher than in Mongolia (near-pristine skies). Moreover, clouds darken the sky under natural conditions, but skyglow can strongly increase local sky brightness on overcast nights. As a result, we find that nightjars' response to cloud cover is reversed between Belgium and sub-tropical Africa and between Belgium and Mongolia. This supports the hypothesis that cloudy nights reduce individual flight activity in a pristine environment, but increase it when the sky is artificially lit. Our study shows that in the absence of direct light pollution, anthropogenic changes in sky brightness relieve nightjars from visual constraints on being active. Individuals adapt daily activities to artificial night-sky brightness, allowing them more time to fly than conspecifics living under natural light cycles. This modification of the nocturnal timescape likely affects behavioural processes of most crepuscular and nocturnal species, but its implications for population dynamics and interspecific interactions remain to be investigated.

Original languageEnglish
Article number165760
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2023


  • Activity-logging
  • Anthropocene
  • Artificial light
  • Nightjar
  • Time-niche


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