BMP Interview #6: Elena Maggi

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?

Elena Maggi (left) with Chiara Mintrone (right), in their experimental site in 2015-2016.

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 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:

  1. identify a relationship between biodiversity and night light pollution on coastal habitats;
  2. quantify the effects of night light pollution on biodiversity through manipulative experiments in the field and under laboratory conditions;
  3. 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.

BMP Interview #5: Rod E. Mc Connell

Rod E. Mc Connell, Canadian, President of the Alberta Dark Sky Association, tells us about his experience, starting from the Edmonton area, and gradually reaching wider horizons.

Q: How did your involvement with the light pollution issue start?
A: My involvement with light pollution began over fifty years ago when I entered university.
At home in the country my beloved night skies were studded with brilliant stars but, in the city of Edmonton, their numbers were dramatically reduced. In 1963 or ’64, I wrote to city council complaining of the light pollution which blocked my view of the heavens.
However, 1960’s society was not ready for lessons in energy conservation or light waste,
trespass and pollution (Light-WTP). The curt letter I received emphasized the City knew
what it was doing and did not need the recommendations of some kid from the country.
There were even derogatory comments in the local newspaper regarding my concerns.
In November 2009, at my nature preserve 150 km northeast of Edmonton, I really
became aware of how light pollution from Edmonton and area had increased over the years.

An Edmonton taxpayer, I decided to take on the city. Determined to save my dark skies, reduce this waste and cut light pollution, I gathered information on light waste, its costs and its effects. I also formed a group and invited other interested people from
different backgrounds to join the “Alberta Dark Sky Association,” a loose association of
professionals who had similar objectives.
Realizing that we would never win the battle with the City over “light pollution,” I
strongly recommended that we create a program which would emphasize reduced
light/energy waste while reducing costs, improving city lighting, citizen and
environmental health, all items city council should find attractive. I proposed that we call
the initiative the “Light-Efficient Community” program (copyrighted.) This phrase
describing our goal could then be quickly, easily and positively understood by all and
greeted with approval rather than fear or anger.
A Light-Efficient Community (LEC) is one that uses lighting intelligently and
responsibly. It uses the most effective, efficient artificial lighting available to minimize
energy waste, glare, light trespass and light pollution. A Light-Efficient Community
employs sound planning, designs, measures, legislation, fixtures, technologies and
good lighting practices to reduce its energy costs and carbon footprint while preserving
the natural environment and ensuring health, safety, security and a high quality of life
for all.
Prime Principle:
Light only what needs to be lit only when it needs to be lit with the most efficient light
source of appropriate intensity and colour without creating direct light trespass on
neighboring properties and the night sky. Keep your light to yourself!
This initiative eventually met with council approval and the Edmonton “Light-Efficient Community Policy” was adopted August 21st, 2013. We are in the process of making changes to streetlighting and will shortly begin work on “Phase 2 – Exterior Community Lighting” and a “LEC Educational Program.”
We have and continue to consult with other communities in creating and adopting the
LEC program throughout Alberta and elsewhere. Our work extends far beyond Edmonton
and encompasses communications and efforts to reduce Light-WTP on an international
basis. To assist in these efforts, I have created a web site
which offers a short course and many resources for the LEC advocate. I am also currently
producing a film (“Demons in the Light”) which will help educate all sectors of the
communities in which advocates work. (Useful modules from the film are now available
on – Search for “Light-Efficient Communities)

Q: Is the Alberta Dark Sky Association (ADSA) affiliated to the International Dark Sky
Association, or is it an independent operation?

A: The ADSA is a completely separate organization from the International Dark Sky
Association though several of our members also carry IDA memberships.

Q: When was the ADSA created? How many members does it have?
A: The ADSA was created in 2009. Members: Our number of associates approximates 100
with anyone having an interest in Light-WTP welcome.

High School Internships with mission accomplished

From April 26 to May 14 hosted in Torniella, Southern Tuscany, two students from the Fossombroni High School in Grosseto.

The students supported the association on two tasks: editing information material concerning the Farma Valley (using both pre-existings sources and new documentation acquired directly on the field) and helping with the promotion of the event calendar combining activities from different subjects residing in the hamlets of Torniella, Piloni, and Scalvaia.

These events start with the Summer season, but also cover the colder months, and take place not only in the valley, but also in locations where subjects from the valley are invited. For example we have considered exhibitions of the Band of Torniella, presentation by the BuioMetria Partecipativa project, as well as the traditional palla a 21/palla eh! tournaments.

To be updated, you may subscribe to our English-language mailing list, write us directly or check the billboard which you will see on your right entering Torniella from the South . This was used to show a map of one of the protected areas nearby, but was gradually being ruined. We asked the Municipality about the possibility of re-using the billboard to present both the calendar and a community map of the valley, and since April 30, it’s right there.

We would like to thank the Fossombroni High School for the interested in our project, and Mario Straccali, Giorgio Panerati, Andrea Bartalucci, Remo Ganozzi e Sonia Masini for the support they provided during the activities.

Seventies night at the ARCI Community Club in Torniella (Southern Tuscany)

The ARCI Community Club in Torniella, Southern Tuscany, is having a Seventies revival night on April 23, 2017.

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.

BMP Interviews #4: Davide Dominoni

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.

March 4, 2017: Open Data Day in Torniella (with opening in Scansano and closing in Castelnuovo Val di Cecina)

Saturday, March 4, for the International Open Data Day, the beta version of the Farma Valley Community Map will be presented in Torniella (GR), Southern Tuscany: meet us at 6PM in the Torniella Band/ARCI club in the main square of the village.

The event is in the line of initiatives that the founders have been proposing since the birth of, and even earlier, with their experiences in the Italian OSGEO Chapter (, the BuioMetria Partecipativa project (where data are published with an open licence), and similar activities. already held an Open Data Day event in the Farma Valley back in 2013. This year our presence, in addition to promoting the importance of having events in lesser known locations, also extends its reach, creating a small network in Southern Tuscany, with one event before March 4, and one after.

At 6PM on Friday, March 3 in Scansano, at the cafe “La Posta” in Garibaldi square, we will have an opening meet-up. Here we will present to the local community the Farma Valley experiences and we will attempt to launch similar participatory mapping works, having received expressions of interest for this in the past months.

Finally, on March 5, at 6PM, at the Rinascita community club in Castelnuovo Val di Cecina, we will have a third meet-up, organized jointly with Associazione Il Tiglio, providing a summary of the two previous events, and without neglecting the participation of some components ofEtruschi from Lakota.

Last but not least, Saturday evening in Castelnuovo Val di Cecina you might want to check the live set by Eugenio Rodondi (just to chill out a little in the midst of our Open Data events).

The three-day string of events will be the prelude to the mission to Milano at the Fa’ la Cosa Giusta fair, where will will share with a large milanese audience our experiences from Southern Tuscany.

For more information: / +393511337020