Polarized light pollution: a new kind of ecological photopollution



The alteration of natural cycles of light and dark by artificial light sources has deleterious impacts on animals and ecosystems. Many animals can also exploit a unique characteristic of light – its direction of polarization –as a source of information. We introduce the term “polarized light pollution” (PLP) to focus attention on the ecological consequences of light that has been polarized through interaction with human-made objects. Unnatural polarized light sources can trigger maladaptive behaviors in polarization-sensitive taxa and alter ecological interactions. PLP is an increasingly common byproduct of human technology, and mitigating its effects through selective use of building materials is a realistic solution. Our understanding of how most species use polarization vision is limited, but the capacity of PLP to drastically increase mortality and reproductive failure in animal populations suggests that PLP should become a focus for conservation biologists and resource managers alike.