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Ecological light pollution is now recognized as a significant source of ecosystem alteration. We documented that holiday lights are a seasonal source of light pollution that constitute an ecological trap for eastern fox squirrels (Sciurus niger). Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK) wildlife students surveyed a 2-km walking transect 5 times per month each month for the relative abundance and diel behavior of eastern fox squirrels and feral cats (Felis catus) on the TAMUK campus during 2018–2019. Eastern fox squirrels exhibited diurnal behaviors throughout the year but extended their foraging behavior nearly 4 hours after sunset with the addition of holiday lights. Feral cats and owls (Strigiformes) exhibited diurnal and nocturnal behaviors but conducted the majority of their hunting during crepuscular hours. We documented that monthly squirrel mortality increased 7-fold with the addition of holiday lights, possibly due to the extension of foraging time by squirrels. Although seasonal lighting is intended to be festive for humans, it can have negative consequences for eastern fox squirrels. Educating the public concerning the issue of light pollution on wildlife species is needed because the majority of the public appears unaware that bright lights can negatively alter wildlife behaviors. Reducing light intensity by either using less outdoor lights or perhaps using colored lights rather than clear white bulbs may lessen the negative effect on foraging behavior of squirrels.
Henke, Scott E.; Wester, David B.; and Eversole, Cord B.
"Holiday Lights Create Light Pollution and Become Ecological Trap for Eastern Fox Squirrels: Case Study on a University Campus,"
Human–Wildlife Interactions: Vol. 16:
1, Article 12.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/hwi/vol16/iss1/12