Abstract: Over billions of years of evolution, light from the sun, moon, and stars has provided
organisms with reliable information about the passage of time. Photic cues entrain
the circadian system, allowing animals to perform behaviors critical for survival and
reproduction at optimal times. Modern artificial lighting has drastically altered
environmental light cues. Evidence is accumulating that exposure to light at night
(particularly blue wavelengths) from computer screens, urban light pollution, or as
an occupational hazard of night-shift work has major implications for human health.
Nocturnal animals are the shift workers of zoos; they are generally housed on
reversed light cycles so that daytime visitors can observe their active behaviors. As a
result, they are exposed to artificial light throughout their subjective night. The goal
of this investigation was to examine critically the care of nocturnal strepsirrhine
primates in North American zoos, focusing on lorises (Loris and Nycticebus spp.) and pottos (Perodicticus potto). The general hypothesis was that exhibit lighting design affects activity patterns and circadian physiology in nocturnal strepsirrhines. The
first specific aim was to assess the status of these populations. A multi-institutional husbandry survey revealed little consensus among zoos in lighting design, with both red and blue light commonly used for nocturnal illumination. A review of medical records also revealed high rates of neonate mortality. The second aim was to
develop methods for measuring the effects of exhibit lighting on behavior and
health. The use of actigraphy for automated activity monitoring was explored.
Methods were also developed for measuring salivary melatonin and cortisol as
indicators of circadian disruption. Finally, a multi-institutional study was conducted
comparing behavioral and endocrine responses to red and blue dark phase lighting.
These results showed greater activity levels in strepsirrhines housed under red light than blue. Salivary melatonin concentrations in pottos suggested that blue light
suppressed nocturnal melatonin production at higher intensities, but evidence for
circadian disruption was equivocal. These results add to the growing body of
evidence on the detrimental effects of blue light at night and are a step towards
empirical recommendations for nocturnal lighting design in zoos.