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Light at night disrupts trophic interactions and population growth of lady beetles and pea aphids

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Natural variation in light has historically correlated with seasonality, providing an honest cue to organisms with seasonal life history cycles. However, with the onset of widespread light at night (LAN), the reliability of light as a cue has decreased in polluted areas, making its timing or intensity potentially clash with temperature trends. These clashing cues may influence biological systems on multiple levels. Yet, a few studies have connected behavioral underpinnings and larger community-level processes, resulting in a knowledge gap bridging individual-, population-, and community-level responses to mismatched cues. We experimentally investigated impacts of cool temperature and LAN on a lady beetle–aphid–fava system to test how light and temperature influenced aphid population growth and their underlying behavioral drivers. We used Coccinella septempunctata and Coleomegilla maculata beetles to understand the interaction of the environment and predation on pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) population growth. Aphids and their predators reacted differently to variation in light and temperature, influencing the strength of aphid-driven and predator-driven dynamics in the different conditions. We observed evidence of aphid-driven dynamics in the cool, light conditions where aphids excel and exhibited strong anti-predator behavior. In contrast, we found stronger predator-driven dynamics in warm conditions where lady beetle predatory success was higher. Overall, we found that LAN has context-dependent effects on insect communities due to the varied responses each player has to its environment.

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We are grateful to T. Ugine and J. Losey for space support and to A. Injaian, K. Sparks, J. Peters, and N. van Eck for technical assistance as well as the Sparks and Powers Labs for space. We are also grateful to the Guterman Bioclimatic Laboratory for space. We appreciate the husbandry assistance of T. Ugine, J. Davis, J. Houtz, T. Ryan, and J. Uehling. We thank J. Davis, Z. Getman-Pickering, S. Kariuki, and T. Lambert for manuscript feedback. We thank J. Houtz and M. Barkdull for figure assistance. We are grateful for the Cornell Statistical Consulting Unit’s assistance with statistics. We appreciate the contribution of C. septempunctata adults by Y. Yang and C. maculata eggs from E. Riddick.


Funding from Cornell University to MNV.

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All authors contributed to study conception and design. CRM and JST composed methods; CRM executed rearing, experiments, and analysis. CRM drafted the manuscript, and JST and MNV provided feedback.

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Correspondence to Colleen R. Miller.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All experiments were conducted within institutional guidelines.

Additional information

Communicated by Sylvain Pincebourde.

Our research discovered that predator–prey interactions are context-dependent, and that novel circumstances, such as light at night, may lead to prey-driven patterns.

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Miller, C.R., Vitousek, M.N. & Thaler, J.S. Light at night disrupts trophic interactions and population growth of lady beetles and pea aphids. Oecologia 199, 527–535 (2022).

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