Human-made objects (e.g., buildings with glass surfaces) can reflect horizontally polarized light so strongly that they appear to aquatic insects to be bodies of water. Insects that lay eggs in water are especially attracted to such structures because these insects use horizontal polarization of light off bodies of water to find egg-laying sites. Thus, these sources of polarized light can become ecological traps associated with reproductive failure and mortality in organisms that are attracted to them and by extension with rapid population declines or collapse. Solar panels are a new source of polarized light pollution. Using imaging polarimetry, we measured the reflection-polarization characteristics of different solar panels and in multiple-choice experiments in the field we tested their attractiveness to mayflies, caddis flies, dolichopodids, and tabanids. At the Brewster angle, solar panels polarized reflected light almost completely (degree of polarization d ≈100%) and substantially exceeded typical polarization values for water (d ≈30-70%). Mayflies (Ephemeroptera), stoneflies (Trichoptera), dolichopodid dipterans, and tabanid flies (Tabanidae) were the most attracted to solar panels and exhibited oviposition behavior above solar panels more often than above surfaces with lower degrees of polarization (including water), but in general they avoided solar cells with nonpolarizing white borders and white grates. The highly and horizontally polarizing surfaces that had nonpolarizing, white cell borders were 10- to 26-fold less attractive to insects than the same panels without white partitions. Although solar panels can act as ecological traps, fragmenting their solar-active area does lessen their attractiveness to polarotactic insects. The design of solar panels and collectors and their placement relative to aquatic habitats will likely affect populations of aquatic insects that use polarized light as a behavioral cue.
- Evolutionary trap
- Habitat selection
- Polarized light pollution
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation