The impacts of artificial light at night on the ecology of temperate and tropical reefs

Emily K. Fobert, Colleen R. Miller, Stephen E. Swearer, Mariana Mayer-Pinto

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Despite 22% of the world's coastal regions experiencing some degree of light pollution, and biologically important artificial light at night (ALAN) reaching large portions of the seafloor (greater than 75%) near coastal developments, the impacts of ALAN on temperate and tropical reefs are still relatively unknown. Because many reef species have evolved in response to low-light nocturnal environments, consistent daily, lunar, and seasonal light cycles, and distinct light spectra, these impacts are likely to be profound. Recent studies have found ALAN can decrease reproductive success of fishes, alter predation rates of invertebrates and fishes, and impact the physiology and biochemistry of reef-building corals. In this paper, we integrate knowledge of the role of natural light in temperate and tropical reefs with a synthesis of the current literature on the impacts of ALAN on reef organisms to explore potential changes at the system level in reef communities exposed to ALAN. Specifically, we identify the direct impacts of ALAN on individual organisms and flow on effects for reef communities, and present potential scenarios where ALAN could significantly alter system-level dynamics, possibly even creating novel ecosystems. Lastly, we highlight large knowledge gaps in our understanding of the overall impact of ALAN on reef systems. This article is part of the theme issue 'Light pollution in complex ecological systems'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20220362
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1892
Early online date30 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


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