Turning to the dark side: LED light at night alters the activity and species composition of a foraging bat assemblage in the northeastern United States.
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Artificial light at night (ALAN) is a rapidly intensifying form of environmental degradation that can impact wildlife by altering light-mediated physiological processes that control a broad range of behaviors. Although nocturnal animals are most vulnerable, ALAN's effects on North American bats have been surprisingly understudied. Most of what is known is based on decades-old observations of bats around street lights with traditional lighting technologies that have been increasingly replaced by energy-efficient broad-spectrum lighting, rendering our understanding of the contemporary effects of ALAN on North American bats even less complete. We experimentally tested the effects of broad-spectrum ALAN on presence/absence, foraging activity, and species composition in a Connecticut, USA bat community by illuminating foraging habitat with light-emitting diode (LED) floodlights and comparing acoustic recordings between light and dark conditions. Lighting dramatically decreased presence and activity of little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), which we detected on only 14% of light nights compared with 65% of dark (lights off) and 69% of control (lights removed) nights. Big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) activity on light nights averaged only half that of dark and control nights. Lighting did not affect presence/absence of silver-haired bats (Lasionycteris noctivagans), but decreased their activity. There were no effects on eastern red bats (Lasiurus borealis) or hoary bats (L.cinereus), which have been described previously as light-tolerant. Aversion to lighting by some species but not others caused a significant shift in community composition, thereby potentially altering competitive balances from natural conditions. Our results demonstrate that only a small degree of ALAN can represent a significant form of habitat degradation for some North American bats, including the endangered little brown bat. Research on the extent to which different lighting technologies, colors, and intensities affect these species is urgently needed and should be a priority in conservation planning for North America's bats.