PhD student Anne Aulsebrook awarded research funding from Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment

Swan processing

PhD student Anne Aulsebrook, from the School of Biosciences, is one of 100 students who have been awarded a share in $1 million in funding from the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, announced this week by the Ecological Society of Australia. Ms Aulsebrook (pictured, left) was recognised for her research into the impact of artificial light on black swans in Melbourne’s Albert Park Lake.

Until about 150 years ago, when electric lights were introduced, the world had a very predictable light-dark cycle. But now, there are many places in the world where true darkness does not exist anymore.

“This can have a huge impact, as life evolved with a predictable light-dark cycle,” Ms Aulsebrook says.

She says that melatonin levels, which are influenced by light, can affect the sleep-wake cycle, metabolism, immune function and cardiovascular systems.

‘”Artificial light at night can shift the timing of animal behaviour and pose a significant threat to wildlife, but its impacts remain poorly understood.

“For example, songbirds will start singing earlier and remain active for longer. Animals that are active for longer each day should have less time to sleep.”

Listen to Anne Aulsebrook talk about the impact of artificial light on black swans on the Eavesdrop on Experts podcast

The popular use of LED lights, which emit more blue light, as opposed to early electric lights which emitted orange-red light and which is like moonlight, can exacerbate the problem, she says.

It isn’t all bad news, though. Ms Aulsebrook says that the colour of LED lights can be changed to filter out the blue area of spectrum “in the way some smart phones have a night shift function”.

“We have the potential to make a real change. A lot of environmental impacts make us feel powerless, but with artificial light, anyone using lights can contribute to solving the problem."

Picture: Andrew Katsis