Effects of experimental light at night on extra-pair paternity in a songbird

Maaike de Jong*, Koosje P. Lamers, Mark Eugster, Jenny Q. Ouyang, Arnaud Da Silva, A.C. Mateman, Roy H.A. van Grunsven, Marcel E. Visser, Kamiel Spoelstra

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Light pollution is increasing worldwide and significantly affects animal behavior. In birds, these effects include advancement of morning activity and onset of dawn song, which may affect extra-pair paternity. Advanced dawn song of males may stimulate females to engage in extra-pair copulations, and the earlier activity onset may affect the males’ mate guarding behavior. Earlier work showed an effect of light at night on extra-pair behavior, but this was in an area with other anthropogenic disturbances. Here, we present a two-year experimental study on effects of light at night on extra-pair paternity of great tits (Parus major). Previously dark natural areas were illuminated with white, red, and green LED lamps and compared to a dark control. In 2014, the proportion of extra-pair young in broods increased with distance to the red and white lamps (i.e., at lower light intensities), but decreased with distance to the poles in the dark control. In 2013, we found no effects on the proportion of extra-pair young. The total number of offspring sired by a male was unaffected by artificial light at night in both years, suggesting that potential changes in female fidelity in pairs breeding close to white and red light did not translate into fitness benefits for the males of these pairs. Artificial light at night might disrupt the natural patterns of extra-pair paternity, possibly negates potential benefits of extra-pair copulations and thus could alter sexual selection processes in wild birds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-448
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology
Issue number8-9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


  • artificial light at night
  • extra-pair paternity
  • great tit
  • light color
  • light pollution
  • Parus major

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