Retrofitting streetlights with LEDs has limited impacts on urban wildlife

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McNaughton, EJ
Beggs, JR
Gaston, KJ
Jones, DN
Stanley, MC
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Artificial light at night (ALAN) causes a wide range of ecological impacts across diverse ecosystems. Most concentrated in urban areas, ALAN poses a particular risk to associated wildlife by disrupting physiology, behaviour and ultimately survival. This risk is predicted to shift as nighttime lightscapes in many cities undergo change. Globally, streetlights are currently being retrofitted with newer technologies that differ in the spectrum and intensity of their emissions, but there is a dearth of in situ urban experiments on the ecological impacts of this change. We monitored timing of dawn and dusk bird song; frequency of owl vocalisations; avian diversity, relative abundance and community composition; small invasive mammal and ground insect activity; and invertebrate relative abundance at 26 residential properties over an 18-month period that coincided with a retrofit from high-pressure sodium (HPS) to white light-emitting diode (LED) streetlights. Initiation time of dawn song was advanced or delayed for two bird species following the retrofit and backyard avian community composition was altered. Avian species richness, relative abundances of three bird species and ground insect activity increased in the presence of LED streetlights. No other retrofit effects were found. Our study suggests that retrofitting streetlights with white LEDs may lead to both positive and negative conservation outcomes for urban wildlife, but direct impacts are relatively small and may be mitigated by changes in lighting characteristics, such as dimming. Streetlight retrofits could provide an opportunity to reduce the impacts of ALAN on urban wildlife if intentionally designed with conservation benefits in mind.

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Biological Conservation

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McNaughton, EJ; Beggs, JR; Gaston, KJ; Jones, DN; Stanley, MC, Retrofitting streetlights with LEDs has limited impacts on urban wildlife, Biological Conservation, 2021, 254, pp. 108944