press release
Nadja Neumann

New street lamps, fewer dead insects

Insect-friendly road lighting successfully tested in 3 three municipalities
In a transdisciplinary study, a research team led by IGB has developed insect-friendly street lighting and tested it in the Dark Sky Reserve Westhavelland as well as in three German municipalities. Tailored and shielded street lamps make the light source almost invisible outside the illuminated area and significantly reduces the lethal attraction for flying insects in different environments. The researchers see this as an important technical solution to reduce insect mortality. The study was published in the journal Communications Biology.

This is one of the new tailored and shielded street lamps. An insect trap hangs from the lamp. | Photo: IGB

Street lamps can become a trap for insects at night: Flying insects such as moths are attracted by the lights and drawn out of their habitats (vacuum cleaner effect). The disoriented insects often circle around the light sources until they die of exhaustion or are eaten. In order to test insect-friendly road lighting, road lights in a field experiment in the Westhavelland Dark Sky Reserve (AuBe project) and on roads in municipalities in Baden-Württemberg along three selected nature reserves in the Rhine-Neckar, Karlsruhe and Freudenstadt districts (NaturLicht project) were converted in a before-and-after experiment. The four sites were selected to represent a wide range of environmental conditions (urban, peri-urban, rural) and existing light pollution, and to cover a large area of Germany.

Light only where needed is much better than dimming

The new LED luminaires deliver more focused light, reduce spill light, and are shielded above and to the side to minimize light pollution. And they reduce insect mortality: Catches in insect traps on the lights showed researchers that the number of flying insects attracted was significantly lower. As a control, the previous conventional lights were used.

Surprisingly, dimming the conventional lights by a factor of 5 had no significant effect on insect attraction. "We had actually assumed a general dose-response relationship for insect flight behavior in relation to artificial light. However, it turns out that reducing unwanted light emissions by means of spatial confinement and shielding is much more effective than reducing illuminance", explained IGB researcher Manuel Dietenberger, first author of the study.

The exact mechanism of how insects react to street lighting is not yet fully understood. It is thought that some insect species do not fly directly towards the light at a short range, but instead tilt their backs towards the brighter hemisphere in order to maintain flight control.

"In view of the results, we therefore recommend the use of tailored and shielded luminaires to protect insects", said Prof. Andreas Jechow from the Brandenburg University of Applied Sciences and guest scientist at IGB. 

"This should be used especially in sensitive areas such as near nature reserves, freshwater ecosystems or other areas with high biodiversity", added Franz Hölker, head of the IGB Light Pollution and Ecophysiology research group.

Read the article in Communications Biology >

Contact person

Franz Hölker

Programme Area Speaker
Research group
Light Pollution and Ecophysiology

Andreas Jechow

Guest Scientist
Research group
Light Pollution and Ecophysiology
Phytoplankton Ecology

Sibylle Schroer

Scientific Coordinator Sustainability Research
Research group
Light Pollution and Ecophysiology

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