Light pollution enhances ground-level exposure to airborne toxic chemicals for nocturnally migrating passerines

2022-10-25

Anthropogenic activities generate different forms of environmental pollution, including artificial light at night (ALAN) and airborne toxic chemicals (ATCs). Nocturnally migrating birds are attracted to ALAN during migration and if ALAN occurs in unison with ATC, the chances of ground-level ATC contamination occurring at stopover sites could increase. Here, we document the relationship between ALAN and ATC within the contiguous United States based on 479 toxic chemicals from 15,743 releasing facilities. Using weekly diurnal estimates of relative abundance for 165 nocturnally migrating passerine (NMP) bird species, we assess how the species richness and relative abundance of NMP species are correlated with ALAN and ATC across the annual cycle. The concentration of ATC increased with increasing ALAN levels, except at the highest ALAN levels. The species richness of NMP species was positively correlated with ATC during the non-breeding season and migration, and negatively correlated during the breeding season. The relative abundance of NMP species was negatively correlated with ATC during the breeding and non-breeding seasons and the correlation did not differ from zero during migration. Through the disorienting influence of ALAN, our findings suggest large numbers of NMP species are being exposed to higher ATC concentrations at stopover sites. Outside of migration, large numbers of NMP species that winter along the US Gulf Coast are being exposed for an extended period of time to higher ATC concentrations. Initiatives designed to decrease ALAN during migration have the potential to reduce the acute and chronic effects of ATC contamination, lower the maternal transfer of toxic chemicals to eggs, and decrease the biologically mediated transport of toxic chemicals across regions. However, these initiatives will not benefit species that experience prolonged ATC exposure during the non-breeding season along the US Gulf Coast, a region that could be a significant source of ATC contamination for North American birds.

Authors: Frank A La Sorte, Christopher A Lepczyk, Myla F J Aronson
; Full Source: Global change biology 2022 Oct 25. doi: 10.1111/gcb.16443.