There are plenty of risks that come with driving, but one of the most serious risks is night travel. Not only are headlights blinding in the rearview, but flourescent street lights aren’t always enough to prevent a collision. While LED street lighting might seem like an incredible idea, new data suggests that it could have serious consequences for wildlife.
According to new research from a study done at the University of Exeter in the UK, predatory spiders and beetles were drawn to stretches of grassland illuminated by LED street lamps at night. The number of species affected decreased significantly when the street lamps were dimmed by 50% and turned off between midnight and 4 AM.
Lighting accounts for approximately 11% of energy used in residential buildings and 18% in commercial buildings, and LED is known as an energy-efficient light source. However, experts estimate that LED lights will account for about 69% of the global lighting market by 2020, which has raised concerns among researchers about their effects on wildlife.
Dr. Thomas Davies of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus explained in the study that changes humans make in lighting night-time environments could have serious impacts on the way a multitude of species function.
The study additionally found that when predatory insect species were drawn to LED-lit patches of land, vegetation was destroyed at an increased rate and other species suffered significant damage.
Many local authorities have switched to LED street lighting in an effort to be more energy-conscious. The LED bulbs provide more light and use less electricity than their sodium bulb predecessors, but the study completed by Davies and his team may hold enough data to warrant a second thought.
“Without appropriate management, our results suggest that the growing use of LED lighting will have impacts on the abundance of predatory invertebrates, potentially leading to knock on effects for other species in grassland food-webs,” Davies wrote in the study.
As the study revealed, dimming the LED lights by 50% resulted in a drastic decrease in predatory species present. Davies believes that while dimming the lights may decrease insect activity, “averting the ecological impacts of night-time lighting may ultimately require avoiding its use altogether.”
Local authorities may be able to effectively manage LED lighting in a way that, according to Davies, “reduces its environmental impacts.” However, more data is needed to determine whether more species will be negatively impacted by the use of LED lights at all.
At any given moment, approximately 660,000 drivers are using a cell phone or another electronic device and are unconcerned about how street lamps are impacting the environment. Perhaps a solution can be found that will enhance driver safety and reduce negative impacts on the environment.