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Russ, A., Reitemeier, S., Weissmann, A., Gottschalk, J., Einspanier, A., & Klenke, R. (2015). Seasonal and urban effects on the endocrinology of a wild passerine. Ecol Evol, 5(23), 5698â5710.
Abstract: In order to maximize their fitness, organisms in seasonal environments rely on external cues to optimally time their life-history stages. One of the most important zeitgeber to time reproduction is the photoperiod, but further environmental cues are assessed to fine-tune reproduction due to year-to-year variation in environmental conditions. However, in urbanized environments, the pervasive artificial light at night has altered the natural signal of light and darkness. Accordingly, artificial light at night was repeatedly shown to affect avian reproductive physiology and to advance seasonal reproduction in birds. However, these experiments were mainly conducted in the absence of further environmental cues to facilitate the investigation of the mechanisms which are still poorly understood. Here, we investigate whether the endocrine system of free-ranging European blackbirds (Turdus merula) correlates with the amount of artificial light at night along a rural to urban gradient while the birds still encounter complementary environmental cues including seasonal variation in day length and temperature. Testosterone and estrone were assessed as metabolites in fecal samples and corticosterone in blood from mist-netted blackbirds. We demonstrate that seasonal fluctuations in abiotic factors, individual conditions, but also light at night affect the reproductive and stress physiology of wild European blackbirds. Elevated artificial night light intensities were significantly positively correlated with corticosterone and negatively with female estrone levels. No effects of artificial light were found for testosterone levels. Our results suggest that female blackbirds in particular perceive even low levels of artificial light at night as a weak but chronic stressor that interacts with the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis and leads to a reduced secretion of reproductive hormones. These findings point out that the impacts of light pollution are diverse and we only slowly disentangle its multiple effects on physiology, ecology, and biodiversity.