If you’re like most people, you probably come into contact with moths when you step outside onto your porch at night. Look up, and there they are, bumbling about the porchlight, running into the bulb again, and again, and again.
But these insects are also important pollinators. After the sun sets, moths pick up pollinating duties often left to bees and butterflies during daylight hours. And street lights may be disrupting moths’ natural cycle of transporting pollen.
A new study from researchers with Newcastle University’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology posits that light pollution may have a detrimental effect on the insect’s ability to pollinate.
The research was published in Global Change Biology.
Gathering field data and specimens from lit and unlit sites in Oxfordshire, England, the researchers discovered that species richness was about 25 percent lower and flight activity was 70 percent greater in lit areas. Altogether, the researchers collected a total of 1599 moths from 203 species in 22 families.
“Where there are street lights, our research indicates that the moths are being attracted upwards, away from the fields and hedgerows,” said PhD student Callum Macgregor, who led the research, in a statement. “This is likely to cause disruption of night-time pollination by moths, which could be serious for the flowers which rely upon moths for pollination, and of course there could be negative effects on the moths themselves as well.”
The researchers found that about one-quarter of the captured moths were toting pollen, which came from a minimum 28 different plant species.
According to Darren Evans, the head of the University of Hull’s Biological Conservation Group, the United Kingdom has seen a decline in moth species within the last 35 years, including up to two-thirds of the region’s larger moth species. Evans is an author on the recently released paper.
With an estimated 300 million street lights around the globe, “the wider importance of moths within ecological networks demands attention,” the researchers wrote.
The researchers are currently delving into how different light sources affect the environment.