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Artificial light at night as a new threat to pollination


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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Figure 1: Interaction web showing the pathway by which artificial light at night affects plant reproduction and diurnal pollinator communities.
Figure 2: Effects of artificial lighting on parameters of nocturnal plant-flower visitor networks.
Figure 3: Merged overall quantified diurnal and nocturnal plant-flower visitor network.
Figure 4: Effects of artificial lighting on fruit set.


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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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Authors and Affiliations



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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eva Knop.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Additional information

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

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Accumulation curves for the species richness of flower visitors on illuminated and dark sites.

For each site 500 randomizations were performed and 95% confidence intervals are given (illuminated sites in white, dark sites in grey). Numbers above the plots correspond to the number of the pair of sites (see Supplementary Table 1).

Extended Data Figure 2 Accumulation curves for generalism of plant species on illuminated and dark sites.

For each site 500 randomizations were performed and 95% confidence intervals are given (illuminated sites in white, dark sites in grey). Numbers above the plots correspond to the number of the pair of sites (see Supplementary Table 1).

Extended Data Figure 3 Accumulation curves for generalism of flower visitors on illuminated and dark sites.

For each site 500 randomizations were performed and 95% confidence intervals are given (illuminated sites in white, dark sites in grey). Numbers above the plots correspond to the number of the pair of sites (see Supplementary Table 1).

Extended Data Figure 4 Fruits and aborted ovules of C. oleraceum.

Extended Data Table 1 Comparison of network parameters of dark and illuminated sites
Extended Data Table 2 The number of flower visits to C. oleraceum during day and night
Extended Data Table 3 Effects of artificial lighting on fruit set
Extended Data Table 4 Effects of artificial lighting on the diversity of insects visiting C. oleraceum
Extended Data Table 5 Effect of lux intensities on fruit set
Extended Data Table 6 Potential for indirect plant-mediated effects from nocturnal to diurnal flower visitors

Supplementary information

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This file contains Supplementary Tables 1-3. (PDF 882 kb)

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Knop, E., Zoller, L., Ryser, R. et al. Artificial light at night as a new threat to pollination. Nature 548, 206–209 (2017).

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