Artificial light at night amplifies seasonal relapse of haemosporidian parasites in a widespread songbird: ALAN and parasite relapse

Daniel J. Becker, Devraj Singh, Qiuyun Pan, Jesse D. Montoure, Katherine M. Talbott, Sarah M. Wanamaker, Ellen D. Ketterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Urban habitats can shape interactions between hosts and parasites by altering not only exposure rates but also within-host processes. Artificial light at night (ALAN) is common in urban environments, and chronic exposure can impair host immunity in ways that may increase infection. However, studies of causal links between this stressor, immunity, and infection dynamics are rare, particularly in migratory animals. Here, we experimentally tested how ALAN affects cellular immunity and haemosporidian parasite intensity across the annual cycle of migrant and resident subspecies of the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis). We monitored an experimental group exposed to light at night and a control group under natural light/dark cycles as they passed through short days simulating early spring to longer days simulating the breeding season, followed by autumn migration. Using generalized additive mixed models, we show that ALAN increased inflammation, and leucocyte counts were greatest in early spring and autumn. At the start of the experiment, few birds had active infections based on microscopy, but PCR revealed many birds had chronic infections. ALAN increased parasitaemia across the annual cycle, with strong peaks in spring and autumn that were largely absent in control birds. As birds were kept in indoor aviaries to prevent vector exposure, this increased parasitaemia indicates relapse of chronic infection during costly life-history stages (i.e. reproduction). Although the immunological and parasitological time series were in phase for control birds, cross-correlation analyses also revealed ALAN desynchronized leucocyte profiles and parasitaemia, which could suggest a general exaggerated inflammatory response. Our study shows how a common anthropogenic influence can shape within-host processes to affect infection dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20201831
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1935
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).


  • Junco hyemalis
  • avian malaria
  • ecoimmunology
  • generalized additive models
  • photoperiod
  • urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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