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Here we are with Elena Maggi, post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Biology of the University of Pisa:
Q: How did your involvement in the topic of light pollution start?
A: My first “encounter” with the topic of light pollution research was in Rome, Italy, in September 2015. This was during the joint conference of the European Ecological Federation (EEF) and the Italian Society of Ecology (SItE), that included a whole session dedicated to this topic, with very interesting presentations showcasing research mostly on terrestrial habitats.
At the same time, the light pollution maps presented clearly showed a strong impact on coastal areas. Since my research is focused on the ecology of rocky shore assemblages, I asked myself: why did no-one ever considered the possible effects of this source of stress on marine coastal organisms?
I immediately discussed the issue with some colleagues at the conference, and they welcomed my idea of starting to work on this topic. I eventually came to learn of the Buiometria partecipativa, which led to a formal collaboration with Pibinko.org and to set up our first manipulative experiments on the effects night light pollution on rocky shore intertidal organisms in Italy. I must admit that the “nocturnal” approach to data collection has been a way to appreciate even more my research activity, and an opportunity to collect observations from a new viewpoint, i.e. that of nocturnal life of coastal organisms. We should not forget that observation is at the foundation of the experimental approach!
Q: Your University of recently started a funded project to study light pollution effects in the field of ecology: could you describe the working group and the objectives of this project?
A: The project is called “Emerging impacts: effects of night light pollution on coastal biodiversity and ecosystem functioning” and it is funded by the University of Pisa.
The working group is composed by researchers and professors from the Department of Biology, studying marine ecology (Prof. L. Benedetti-Cecchi, Prof. F. Bulleri), genetics (Prof. R. Scarpato), botanics (Dott. A. Andreucci), plant physiology (Prof. F. Licausi) and ethology (Dott. D. Giunchi).
The project started in April 2017 and will have a duration of two years. It has three main goals:
- identify a relationship between biodiversity and night light pollution on coastal habitats;
- quantify the effects of night light pollution on biodiversity through manipulative experiments in the field and under laboratory conditions;
- identify possible interactions between light pollution and other sources of stress (e.g. UV radiations and warming of shallow sea water).
For this purpose, we envisage monitoring activities of coastal organisms at sites characterized by varying degrees of light pollution, as well as manipulative experiments in the field and in the laboratory. In particular, experiments will focus on effects of light pollution on algae and invertebrates inhabiting rocky shores, seagrass (Posidonia oceanica), freshwater microalgae, yeasts and coastal birds (e.g. seagull). The overarching aim of the project is that of unveiling processes and molecular, physiological or ecological mechanisms behind the effects of light pollution, as a tool to identify local actions able to minimize the effects of light pollution, as well as possible synergies with other sources of stress, which are more difficult to manage.
Q: What activities have you planned for this Summer?
A: We will focus on monitoring, in collaboration with the Biometeorology Institute of the National Research Council and the BuioMetria Partecipativa project. With these partners we have planned a Summer campaign focusing on measurements taken along the Tuscan coast combining citizen science observations. I will be one of the citizens, but -most of all- we have some students from the master in Marine Biology from the University of Pisa who volunteered after attending a seminar we organised on May 16. Also, monitoring of marine biodiversity will be conducted at some of the sites where the levels of light pollution have been evaluated. With the July new Moon we expect to collect a first batch of Posidonia oceanica samples in locations characterized by varying levels of night lighting. These samples will be subject to our initial molecular analyses within our University project. The data collected during the Summer will represent a quantitative baseline for the experiments which will follow, in the field and in our lab.
As usual, this will be after the traditional march from Piloni to Torniella, with the band of Torniella departing 8.30AM from Piloni (see footage from the 2009 celebrations).
The will be an exhibition of vintage clothes, brought by the MCO apparel shop by Marcella and Celeste Sgai.
Doors open at 9.30PM, wih DJ Ricky Bartalucci spinning some records.
If you have vintage clothes, wear them for the occasion.
Kudos to Andrea Landini for proposing the idea.
Davide: introduce yourself…
My name is Davide Dominoni, a postdoctoral researcher affiliated with the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in Wageningen, the Netherlands, and the University of Glasgow in Scotland. My background is in Natural Sciences and Conservation Biology. After my Master’s degree at the University of Parma, Italy, I left my home country and worked as research and field assistant in Ireland and Australia before moving to Germany to start my PhD.
How did you get involved in light pollution studies?
It started with my PhD in Germany. I was always interested in anthropogenic impacts on wildlife, and I knew I wanted to do a PhD related to urban ecology. When I saw the job offer for a PhD on the eco-physiological effects of light pollution in the European blackbird, I thought it would have been an excellent opportunity to develop my interests.
Could you tell us a little about the scope of your research, and your most relevant findings to date?
My research integrates two main concepts. First, light is the most potent environmental factor that regulates the rhythms of life, because it signals when is the right time to be awake, to forage or to sleep, and it also indicates daylength, thus whether it is summer or winter, for instance. Light has therefore profound effects on the behaviour and physiology of virtually all organisms. Examples are daily rhythms of singing behaviour of birds or the up and down movement of leaves on plants, and the migration of millions of animals that happens at specific times of the year. Second, because organisms have adapted to these natural light/dark cycles, they have developed physiological and molecular mechanisms to synchronise to such cycles and even anticipate them. My research started from a simple hypothesis: if organisms tune their behaviour and physiology to natural light/dark cycles, then light pollution should affect such processes because it can disrupt such cycles.
In order to test this hypothesis, I first had to demonstrate that wild animals are exposed to light pollution in the first place. This is not trivial: animals move and can easily seek and hide in dark places to avoid light. To this scope I used tiny light loggers are deployed them on wild European blackbirds that were breeding in the city of Munich, in Germany, and in a nearby dark forest. Birds in the city were exposed to much higher light at night than the forest cousins, but the light intensity was still quite low if compared to the brightness of street lamps. Thus, the next question was whether such relatively low levels of light could impact the blackbirds behaviour and physiology. To answer this I brought city and forest birds to the laboratory and exposed to the same levels of light at night that I recorded in the field, to rule out any other confounding variables that may co-vary with light in the city, such as noise and temperature. What I found was impressive: birds exposed to light levels 20 times lower than the intensity of a typical street lamp bred 1 month earlier and show twice as much nocturnal activity than birds exposed to a dark, forest-like night.
Although these results were strong and intriguing, at the end of the PhD I was left with an important question: is light pollution bad, good, or neutral for birds? To solve this dilemma I had to integrate different approaches from different fields of research.
First, I used molecular techniques to understand what biochemical pathways were altered by light pollution, and what we know about such pathways. I found strong effects on pathways related to stress and cognitive function, suggesting that light pollution has to power to fundamentally altered processes that are now to be link to survival and reproductive success. Second, I went back to the field to understand what the long-term effects of light pollution are on the fitness of wild birds. This is an ongoing, 7-year project that is a part of a large initiative called “Light on Nature”. It is a Dutch project were street lamps of different colours are mounted in several different forests across the Netherlands. My own research looks at long-term physiological changes in the songbird Great tit. This species breeds in nest-boxes, which makes it ideal to recapture the same bird several times to obtain physiological samples, but also to look at age-related changes in reproductive success and survival, what we called “senescence”. I hope that this will better inform both science and policy-makers about the long-term effects of light pollution, as well as indicate what type of light colour might mitigate such effects, which is a very important issue as the current trend is to replace the old Tungsten lamps with LED lights.
To what extent your findings on birds may help to understand effects on humans?
My research has profound implications for human health too, as we are becoming more and more a 24-h society where we are constantly exposed to light. This is known to be a problem for human health, but studies on humans are mostly correlative, and the use of laboratory models such as mice and rats can only partially solve the problems because they are nocturnal animals. Birds are diurnal and warm-blooded, like us, they live in cities and show strong responses to light pollution. Plus, it is relatively easy to study them both in the wild and in the lab, making it easy to obtain several samples from the same animal or to follow it for its entire life, which is helpful if we want to really grasp the long-term effects of light pollution.
In the afternoon of Saturday, March 4, the Farma Valley will host an event connected to the International Open Data Day.
The actual location is currently being identified (among various spaces which we and other associations use in the area). More information will be disclosed during the coming days.
Our international Open Data Day will be about the new version of the Farma Valley Community Map. The alpha version of this map was presented on Dec. 18, during the Farma Valley Winter Fest.
On March 4 it will also be possible to provide new input for the completion of the map.
For more information, or should you be interested in participating: email@example.com
The BuioMetria Partecipativa project, in addition to managing a pool of sky quality meters which are borrowed by citizens in all of Italy, also owns a monitoring station with a logger. This can be deployed in any (enclosed) site and will record time series of data. The sensor is part of the Italian Coordination for the collection of light pollution data (i.e. Coordinamento Italiano per la raccolta dati sull’inquinamento luminoso or CORDILIT). Since 2011, CORDILIT receives data from sensors in various Italian regions.
The BMP sensor was first installed in 2014 above Torniella, in the Farma Valley in a location named “Il Colle“. In 2015 the sensor was removed and spent some time at Politecnico di Milano for some tests. A few weeks ago we brought the instrument back home and just a couple of days ago it was re-deployed in the hills. During the Winter the sensor will be staying by the pool of Villa San Martino , with the owner, Fabio Bartalucci. The senso will be taking measurement just under the Sassoforte , and will enjoy with Fabio the view towards the sea and part of the Tuscan archipelago, while we roam through frosty hills and foggy plains to promote the project.
For more information on BuioMetria Partecipativa or CORDILIT: firstname.lastname@example.org