Broad-spectrum light pollution suppresses melatonin and increases West Nile virus-induced mortality in House Sparrows (Passer domesticus)

Meredith E. Kernbach, Vincent M. Cassone, Thomas R. Unnasch, Lynn B. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Artificial light at night (ALAN) has become a pervasive anthropogenic stressor for both humans and wildlife. Although many negative impacts of ALAN on human health have been identified, the consequences for infectious disease dynamics are largely unexplored. With the increase in popularity of energy efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs), the effects of spectral composition of ALAN have also come into question. Previous studies showed that exposure to low levels of incandescent ALAN extended the infectious period of House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) infected with West Nile virus (WNV) without affecting mortality rates, thus increasing the pathogen initial reproductive rate (R0) by ∼41%. Here, we asked whether exposure to broad-spectrum (3000 K [Kelvin; unit of color temperature]) ALAN suppressed melatonin, a hormone implicated in ALAN-induced physiological consequences, in House Sparrows. We then asked whether amber-hue bulbs (1800 K) could ameliorate the effects of WNV on individual sparrows, and whether broad-spectrum or blue-rich bulbs (3000 K and 5000 K, respectively) could exacerbate them. We found that exposure to low intensity (∼5 lux) broad-spectrum (3000 K) ALAN significantly suppressed melatonin levels throughout the night. Second, we found that exposure to broad-spectrum and blue-rich (3000 + 5000 K) lights did not affect WNV viremia but did increase WNV-induced mortality. Conversely, birds exposed to amber-hue (1800 K) ALAN had lower viremia and mortality rates similar to controls (i.e. natural light conditions). This study demonstrates that ALAN affects melatonin regulation in birds, but this effect, as well as ALAN influences on infectious disease responses, can be ameliorated by particular lighting technologies.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Published by Oxford University Press for the American Ornithological Society 2020.


  • House Sparrow
  • Immunity
  • Light pollution
  • Melatonin
  • Mortality
  • Reservoir
  • Resistance
  • West Nile virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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