Artificial light at night alters the sexual behaviour and fertilisation success of the common toad

Environ Pollut. 2020 Apr;259:113883. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2019.113883. Epub 2020 Jan 7.


Artificial Light At Night (ALAN) is an emerging pollution, that dramatically keeps on increasing worldwide due to urbanisation and transport infrastructure development. In 2016, it nearly affected 23% of the Earth's surface. To date, all terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems have been affected. The disruption of natural light cycles due to ALAN is particularly expected for nocturnal species, which require dark periods to forage, move, and reproduce. Apart from chiropterans, amphibians contain the largest proportion of nocturnal species among vertebrates exhibiting an unfavourable conservation status in most parts of the world and living in ALAN polluted areas. Despite the growing number of studies on this subject, our knowledge on the direct influence of nocturnal lighting on amphibians is still scarce. To better understand the consequences of ALAN on the breeding component of amphibian fitness, we experimentally exposed male breeding common toads (Bufo bufo) to ecologically relevant light intensities of 0.01 (control), 0.1 or 5 lux for 12 days. At mating, exposed males took longer than controls to form an amplexus, i.e. to pair with a female, and broke amplexus before egg laying, while controls never did. These behavioural changes were associated with fitness alteration. The fertilisation rate of 5 lux-exposed males was reduced by 25%. Salivary testosterone, which is usually correlated with reproductive behaviours, was not altered by ALAN. Our study demonstrates that ALAN can affect the breeding behaviour of anuran species and reduce one component of their fitness. Given the growing importance of ALAN, more work is needed to understand its long-term consequences on the behaviour and physiology of individuals. It appears essential to identify deleterious effects for animal populations and propose appropriate management solutions in an increasingly brighter world.

Keywords: Amphibian; Anthropogenic light pollution; Behaviour; Fitness; Reproduction.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bufo bufo* / physiology
  • Ecosystem
  • Female
  • Light*
  • Male
  • Photoperiod
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal* / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal* / radiation effects