Each month DarkSky International features a DarkSky Advocate from the worldwide network of volunteers who are working to protect the night. This month we’re highlighting the work of DarkSky Missouri Chapter Board Member, Brett Seymoure.
Why are some butterflies bright blue, while others blend into their environments? According to behavioral ecologist Brett Seymoure, animal coloration is influenced by light environment. Typically, bright butterflies have evolved to thrive in open areas like meadows, while less vibrant species have adapted to blend into low light areas like dense forests. Different light environments affect animal morphology and behavior, which means light pollution may have long-term effects on how species evolve and interact in their ecosystems.
Seymoure, a postdoctoral research associate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, specializes in the field of visual ecology. He studies how both natural light cycles and light pollution affect different species, particularly arthropods like spiders and butterflies. His research recently made headlines, citing light pollution as a key factor in global insect decline.
In addition to his scientific profession, Seymoure also serves as a Board Member of the DarkSky Missouri Chapter. Research and advocacy go hand in hand, Seymoure says, and being involved with DarkSky International gives him a platform to share his knowledge and educate people about the effects of light pollution.
While there are many technical challenges in the visual ecology field, Seymoure says the hardest part is for scientists to communicate results in a way that is accessible to the public so they can take action. He is encouraged that the public and media have been eager for more information about light pollution as of late, and he sees the issue as very fixable.
“If we all decided today to get on the same page about lighting, we’d have the stars back tonight,” Seymoure says. With changes to our lighting practices, he predicts that many insects would begin to rebound within months. Certain species are more heavily impacted by light pollution and would recover very quickly with lighting changes, he says.
He also notes that while light pollution research has largely focused on nocturnal species, there is still a lot to learn about it’s impact on diurnal species, including humans. Most animals have photoreceptors related to sleeping and reproduction, and light pollution interferes with these basic functions. As Seymoure says, “Light pollution does not just affect things that crawl at night.”
Seymoure says there are very easy things that people can do at home to combat light pollution, like installing shielding and timers on outdoor lights, and that we would see the effects almost immediately if we everyone made a few small changes.