Stephens' kangaroo rat artificial light impacts on foraging data
Modification of nighttime light levels by artificial illumination (artificial light at night; ALAN) is a rapidly increasing form of human disturbance that affects natural environments worldwide. Light in natural environments influences a variety of physiological and ecological processes directly and indirectly and, as a result, the effects of light pollution on species, communities and ecosystems are emerging as significant. Small prey species may be particularly susceptible to ALAN as it makes them more conspicuous and thus more vulnerable to predation by visually oriented predators. Understanding the effects of disturbance like ALAN is especially important for threatened or endangered species as impacts have the potential to impede recovery, but due to low population numbers inherent to at-risk species, disturbance is rarely studied. The endangered Stephens’ kangaroo rat (SKR), Dipodomys stephensi, is a nocturnal rodent threatened by habitat destruction from urban expansion. The degree to which ALAN impacts their recovery is unknown. In this study, we examined the effects of ALAN on SKR foraging decisions across a gradient of light intensity for two types of ALAN, flood and bug lights (756 vs 300 lumen, respectfully) during full and new moon conditions. We found that ALAN decreased probability of resource patch depletion compared to controls. Moreover, lunar illumination, distance from the light source and light type interacted to alter SKR foraging. Under the new moon, SKR were consistently more likely to deplete patches under control conditions, but there was an increasing probability of patch depletion with distance from the source of artificial light. The full moon dampened SKR foraging activity and the effect of artificial lights. Our study underscores that ALAN reduces habitat suitability, and raises the possibility that ALAN may impede the recovery of at-risk nocturnal rodents. Main conclusion: Artificial light source, moon phase and distance to light interact to negatively impact foraging energetics of endangered kangaroo rats, which has implications for management and recovery of nocturnal prey species.