Light pollution affects cougars

The nighttime light pollution study used geolocation data from 102 cougars in central and southern California. These cats avoid artificial light from human settlements reflected on the horizon, rather than artificial light reflected from the sky or moonlight.

According to data from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), light pollution has increased by almost 49% over the last quarter century, a figure researchers describe as “alarming”.

Light pollution caused by nighttime lighting is an environmental problem whose impact on human and ecosystem health has been demonstrated.

The constant increase in nighttime lighting has resulted in half of Europe and a quarter of North America experiencing widespread “night loss,” resulting in a change in day and night cycles.

A study conducted by Italian and American scientists using satellite data and images found that half of Europeans and two-thirds of Americans cannot see the Milky Way with the naked eye.

Research on light pollution and its effects on cougars

According to international research conducted by the Complutense University of Madrid, the puma must choose its habitat (Puma concolor) prevents glare in areas with a lot of artificial light associated with densely populated areas more than the light reflected from them in the sky or moonlight.

Other variables found in previous studies to influence space use by cougars, such as distance from roads or land uses, had a much smaller influence compared to that exerted by the glare of nearest lighting.

This avoidance is likely due to animals associating these human settlements with areas that are vulnerable to them.“, suspects Rafael Barrientos, researcher in the Department of Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution at UCM.

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GPS collar with geolocation

The work, published in the Royal Society’s journal Philosophical Transactions, is the first to combine research on sky brightness with light pollution near cities on the horizon and the natural light of the moon.

The study, which also involved American universities in California and Texas, tracked 102 cougars between 2002 and 2022 and added GPS collars to their geolocation.

The researchers were able to conclude from this that the pumas’ habitat options are varied during the day and at night and that they avoid areas that are heavily contaminated by artificial light at night, even during daylight hours.

Artificial light is increasing worldwide, altering the sensory systems, orientation and behavior of animals and can cause ecological and evolutionary damage.

In addition to the general pattern of avoiding glare from nearby light sources, each of the 102 cougars’ responses were more or less intense, suggesting that future research should also consider differences in individual responses.

The results suggest that artificial light at night can also alter habitat selection patterns in generalist animals such as the puma. Therefore, it is a source of pollution that we should reduce“Barrientos closed.

Of the human-caused pollutants such as air, water, soil and waste production, light pollution is the easiest to combat and eliminate.

Bibliographical note:

Barrientos R. et al. “Nearby nighttime illumination, rather than sky glow, is associated with habitat selection by a top predator in human-dominated landscapes. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (2023).

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