||1.Artificial light at night (ALAN) is one of the most recently recognized sources of anthropogenic disturbance, with potentially severe effects on biological systems that are still to be fully explored. Among marine ecosystems, high shore habitats are those more likely to be impacted by ALAN, due to a more intense exposition to outdoor nocturnal lightings (mostly from lamps along coastal streets and promenades, or within harbors, ports and marinas).
2.By performing in situ nocturnal manipulations of a direct source of white LED light and presence of herbivores in a Mediterranean high‐shore habitat, we assessed the interactive effects of light pollution and grazing on two key functional components of the epilithic microbial community (the cyanobacteria, as the main photoautotrophic component, and the other bacteria, mainly dominated by heterotrophs) developing on rocky shores.
3.Results showed an unexpected increase in the diversity of epilithic bacterial biofilm at unlit sites in the presence of grazers, that was more evident on the other (mainly heterotrophic) bacterial component, when giving weight to more abundant families. This effect was likely related to the mechanical removal of dead cells through the grazing activity of consumers. ALAN significantly modified this scenario, by reducing the density of grazers and thus erasing their effects on bacteria, and by increasing the diversity of more abundant cyanobacterial families.
4.Overall, direct and indirect effects on ALAN resulted in a significant increase in the diversity of the photoautotrophic component and a decrease in the heterotrophic one, likely affecting key ecosystem functions acting on rocky shore habitats.
5.ALAN may represent a threat for natural systems through the annihilation of positive interactions across trophic levels, potentially impairing the relationship between biodiversity and functioning of ecosystems and interacting with other global and local stressors currently impinging on coastal areas.