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February 13, 2019

Good Morning,

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Now, did you know that "light pollution" is an actual thing? It is and it's affecting most of earth's key wildlife areas. That can impact various ecosystems in a very big way.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Light pollution affects most of the planet's key wildlife areas --*

Light pollution now affects much of the globe -- and most of the planet's most important wildlife areas, according to new research.

As the new research reveals, light can reach habitat far from human settlements. When it's reflected and refracted in the atmosphere, light beams can travel long distances. This type of light, called "skyglow," impacts some two-thirds of Earth's Key Biodiversity Areas, as defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Species living in more than half of the planet's Key Biodiversity Areas are living beneath artificially brightened night skies.

Previous studies prove light pollution can alter the behavior of specific species and impact entire ecosystems.

"These results are troubling because we know many species can respond even to small changes in night-time light," Jo Garrett, professor at the University of Exeter, said in a news release. "Night-time lighting is known to affect microbes, plants and many groups of animals such crustaceans, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals."

Light pollution can affect the timing of when plants put out leaves and open their flowers. Often, birds begin singing earlier in the day in places featuring artificial light. Light-induced changes in microbial behavior can alter the cycling of carbon and other organic compounds.

Scientists quantify light pollution by the amount of artificial light present, as well as by how far the artificial light extends above the horizon. Skies with light pollution extending across the entirety of the sky are said to be polluted to the "zenith."

According to the latest analysis, published this week in the journal Animal Conservation, more than 20 percent of skies within Key Biodiversity Areas are polluted to the zenith. More than half of the wildlife areas in the Middle East are polluted to the zenith. Europe and the Caribbean also feature night skies heavily polluted by artificial light.

As developing economies continue to grow across Asia, South America, the Middle East and Africa, home to large swaths of biodiverse habitat, light pollution levels are likely to increase.

"Skyglow could be reduced by limiting outdoor lighting to levels and places where it is needed, which would also result in considerable cost savings and lower energy use," said Exeter professor Kevin Gaston.

*-- Fish recognize themselves in the mirror --*

GadgetsThe cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, a small marine fish, can recognize itself in the mirror.

When scientists present the colorful reef fish with a reflection of itself, the fish attempts to remove marks on its body, the most common tests for identifying self-awareness among animals.

The research was conducted scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany and Osaka City University in Japan. The results were published this week in the journal PLOS Biology.

Authors of the new study acknowledge that the reaction to their findings will depend largely on how one interprets the legitimacy or significance of the mirror test.

"The behaviors we observe leave little doubt that this fish behaviorally fulfills all criteria of the mirror test as originally laid out," Alex Jordan, researcher with both Max Planck and Osaka City, said in a news release. "What is less clear is whether these behaviors should be considered as evidence that fish are self-aware -- even though in the past these same behaviors have been interpreted as self-awareness in so many other animals."

Cleaner wrasse is the most famous of the cleaner fish. The species cleans external parasites from the bodies of larger cleaner fish.

In the lab, scientists placed a colorful marking on the fish that could only be seen in a mirror. When placed in front of the mirror, the fish tried to clean off the marking. Unmarked fish didn't attempt to remove markings from themselves when interacting with marked fish. The fish also declined to remove marks placed directly on the mirror.

"Depending on your position, you might reject the interpretation that these behaviors in a fish satisfy passing the test at all," Jordan said. "But on what objective basis can you do this when the behaviors they show are so functionally similar to those of other species that have passed the test?"

In an accompanying review, commissioned by the study's authors, Frans de Waal, an expert primatologist at Emory University, offered a critique of the mirror test and binary interpretation of self-awareness.

"What if self-awareness develops like an onion, building layer upon layer, rather than appearing all at once?" said de Waal. "To explore self-awareness further, we should stop looking at responses to the mirror as its litmus test. Only with a richer theory of the self and a larger test battery will we be able to determine all of the various levels of self-awareness, including where exactly fish fit in."