Impacts of “supermoon” events on the physiology of a wild bird

Steven J. Portugal, Craig R. White, Peter B. Frappell, Jonathan A. Green, Patrick J. Butler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The position of the Moon in relation to the Earth and the Sun gives rise to several predictable cycles, and natural changes in nighttime light intensity are known to cause alterations to physiological processes and behaviors in many animals. The limited research undertaken to date on the physiological responses of animals to the lunar illumination has exclusively focused on the synodic lunar cycle (full moon to full moon, or moon phase) but the moon's orbit—its distance from the Earth—may also be relevant. Every month, the moon moves from apogee, its most distant point from Earth—and then to perigee, its closest point to Earth. Here, we studied wild barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) to investigate the influence of multiple interacting lunar cycles on the physiology of diurnally active animals. Our study, which uses biologging technology to continually monitor body temperature and heart rate for an entire annual cycle, asks whether there is evidence for a physiological response to natural cycles in lunar brightness in wild birds, particularly “supermoon” phenomena, where perigee coincides with a full moon. There was a three-way interaction between lunar phase, lunar distance, and cloud cover as predictors of nighttime mean body temperature, such that body temperature was highest on clear nights when the full moon coincided with perigee moon. Our study is the first to report the physiological responses of wild birds to “supermoon” events; the wild geese responded to the combination of two independent lunar cycles, by significantly increasing their body temperature at night. That wild birds respond to natural fluctuations in nighttime ambient light levels support the documented responses of many species to anthropogenic sources of artificial light, that birds seem unable to override. As most biological systems are arguably organized foremost by light, this suggests that any interactions between lunar cycles and local weather conditions could have significant impacts on the energy budgets of birds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7974-7984
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Evolution
Volume9
Issue number14
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019

Keywords

  • circadian
  • energy expenditure
  • lunar cycles
  • supermoon

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