, Volume 182, Issue 4, pp 1203–1211 | Cite as

Experimental tests of light-pollution impacts on nocturnal insect courtship and dispersal

  • Ariel FirebaughEmail author
  • Kyle J. Haynes
Global change ecology – original research


Though a number of effects of artificial light pollution on behavior and physiology have been described, there is little understanding of their consequences for the growth and distribution of populations. Here, we document impacts of light pollution on aspects of firefly population ecology and underlying mating behaviors. Many firefly species have a unique communication system whereby bioluminescent flashes are used in courtship displays to find and attract mates. We performed a series of manipulative field experiments in which we quantified the effects of adding artificial nighttime lighting on abundances and total flashing activity of fireflies, courtship behaviors and mating between tethered females and free-flying males, and dispersal distances of marked individuals. We show that light pollution reduces flashing activities in a dark-active firefly species (Photuris versicolor) by 69.69 % and courtship behavior and mating success in a twilight-active species (Photinus pyralis). Though courtship behavior and mating success of Photinus pyralis was reduced by light pollution, we found no effects of light pollution on male dispersal in this species. Our findings suggest that light pollution is likely to adversely impact firefly populations, and contribute to wider discussions about the ecological consequences of sensory pollution.


Fireflies Communication Sensory ecology Population ecology Anthropogenic disturbance 



We thank D. Heflin and B. Fox for the construction of light fixtures, B. Manning for help with data collection, D. Carr for statistical support, and J. Walter and T. Roulston for comments on the manuscript. Additional thanks to C. Bielecki, B. Cook, K. Fu, E. Graves, T. Hartman, S. Heitsch, I. Keddy-Hector, M. Glebocki, K. LeCroy, J. Linnaburg, E. McGee, A. Pheil, C. Taylor, and K. Ware for help with data collection, and to BEF administrative and support staff for facilitating a vibrant research community. Financial support was provided by Sigma Xi, BEF, and the University of Virginia Department of Environmental Sciences.

Author contribution statement

A. F. and K. H. conceived and designed the experiments. A. F. performed the experiments. A. F. and K. H. analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Blandy Experimental FarmUniversity of VirginiaBoyceUSA

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