This Postdoctoral Research Fellowship award to Dr. Jenny Ouyang is supported by both the Directorate for Biological Sciences and the Office of International Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation. During the 24-month fellowship, Dr. Ouyang will work on a project titled, "Loss of night: physiological costs of living under artificial lighting" under the sponsorship of Professor Marcel Visser at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) in Wageningen, the Netherlands. This award provides a unique opportunity for a US scientist to collaborate with foreign scientists, and utilize the unique facilities, expertise and experimental conditions available abroad.
Animals and plants have evolved under a natural, daily light/dark cycle for millions of years. These cycles have been disturbed as nighttime darkness is increasingly replaced by artificial illumination on a large part of the planet, especially in industrialized and densely populated areas. Nocturnal illumination does not simply affect cities, as unnatural light stretches well into surrounding forests and natural waterways. The dramatic effects of artificial lighting on community ecology, population numbers, and individual behavior and fitness are just beginning to be explored. However, the range and degree of potential physiological change in free-living organisms remain unclear.
The project will make use of an existing, worldwide unique network of field sites that are artificially illuminated at night with red, green, and white light to test the effects of nocturnal lighting on individual stress physiology, immunology, reproductive output, and subsequent survival using a well-studied European songbird, the great tit (Parus major). Differences in individual activity patterns between the illuminated and the dark control field sites will be tracked, then tested for treatment differences in stress levels and immune function, and finally monitored for fitness. The field study will be integrated with a laboratory study that will trace an individual's endocrine and immunological function before, during, and after light treatments to fully test the effects of nighttime light on individual physiology.
The effects of decreased nighttime darkness may be alleviated by a modified spectrum of lighting; therefore, the results of this study have implications for urban planning and ecosystem function. Ultimately, the findings will be crucial to implementing plans to combat large-scale ecological disruptions associated with disturbances to the natural light cycle. This project will advance our current understanding of the mechanistic regulation of circadian rhythms, test an environmentally friendly application of light in natural areas, and provide concrete evidence for management practices at a global scale. The information acquired is becoming essential in a world that is increasingly experiencing a "loss of night."