In Brief

Light pollution 'causes spring to arrive a week early'

Trees bud in urban areas up to 7.5 days before they appear in the countryside, says major new report

Light pollution causes spring to arrive a week early in some areas of the UK, according to a new report.

Published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the first significant examination of how light pollution affects plants reports that leaves appear on trees up to 7.5 days earlier in areas heavily affected by light.

The researchers, from the University of Exeter and Cornwall College Newquay, say this is likely to have a "knock-on effect on the life cycles of insects and birds that live in sync with the trees", The Guardian reports.

"If the oak tree buds earlier, [moth caterpillars] will be feeding on leaves full of tannins and they won’t grow correspondingly," project leader Professor Richard Ffrench-Constant told The Independent. "And there will be less food for the songbirds."

The results indicate a need for "experimental investigation into the impact of artificial night-time lighting on phenology and species interactions", he said, suggesting the introduction of less harmful LED lighting in urban environments. 

Light pollution has already been shown to have an effect on the behaviour of animals. Street lighting causes some species of songbird to start chirping well before their natural "dawn chorus", disrupting their mating rituals, says a 2010 study published in Current Biology.

Birds nesting near street lights also exhibit higher stress levels, The Guardian reported last year, making it more likely they will flee their nest and abandon their young.

Migratory birds can become confused in areas with high levels of light pollution and lose their navigation sense, interrupting their migration patterns and sometimes causing collisions with buildings.

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