Letter | Published:

Artificial light at night as a new threat to pollination

Nature volume 548, pages 206209 (10 August 2017) | Download Citation


Pollinators are declining worldwide1 and this has raised concerns for a parallel decline in the essential pollination service they provide to both crops and wild plants2,3. Anthropogenic drivers linked to this decline include habitat changes, intensive agriculture, pesticides, invasive alien species, spread of pathogens and climate change1. Recently, the rapid global increase in artificial light at night4 has been proposed to be a new threat to terrestrial ecosystems; the consequences of this increase for ecosystem function are mostly unknown5,6. Here we show that artificial light at night disrupts nocturnal pollination networks and has negative consequences for plant reproductive success. In artificially illuminated plant–pollinator communities, nocturnal visits to plants were reduced by 62% compared to dark areas. Notably, this resulted in an overall 13% reduction in fruit set of a focal plant even though the plant also received numerous visits by diurnal pollinators. Furthermore, by merging diurnal and nocturnal pollination sub-networks, we show that the structure of these combined networks tends to facilitate the spread of the negative consequences of disrupted nocturnal pollination to daytime pollinator communities. Our findings demonstrate that artificial light at night is a threat to pollination and that the negative effects of artificial light at night on nocturnal pollination are predicted to propagate to the diurnal community, thereby aggravating the decline of the diurnal community. We provide perspectives on the functioning of plant–pollinator communities, showing that nocturnal pollinators are not redundant to diurnal communities and increasing our understanding of the human-induced decline in pollinators and their ecosystem service.

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We thank all those who assisted with fieldwork, E. Thébault for discussions, M. Visser and M. Menz for comments that helped to improve this manuscript and D. Sanders for contributing to early ideas on the project. Furthermore, we are grateful to all experts who helped with identification of species: H.-P. Wymann (Lepidoptera), E. Obrecht (Diptera), S. Oertli (Hymenoptera) and C. Germann (Coleoptera). This study was supported by the Swiss National Sciences Foundation.

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  1. University of Bern, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Baltzerstrasse 6, 3012 Bern, Switzerland

    • Eva Knop
    • , Leana Zoller
    • , Remo Ryser
    • , Christopher Gerpe
    •  & Maurin Hörler
  2. Centre d’Ecologie et des Sciences de la Conservation, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, UMR 7204 CNRS-MNHN, 61 Rue Buffon, 75005 Paris, France

    • Colin Fontaine


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E.K. and C.F. conceived the study and analysed the data. E.K., R.R., C.G. and L.Z. developed the set-up of the field sites and protocols. E.K., C.G., R.R., M.H. and L.Z. obtained the samples. E.K. wrote the first manuscript draft and all authors reviewed the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eva Knop.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks M. Devoto, J. Memmott and A. J. Vanbergen for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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