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Color of artificial light at night affects incubation behavior in the great tit, Parus major

Cite this dataset

van Dis, Natalie; Spoelstra, Kamiel; Visser, Marcel; Dominoni, Davide (2021). Color of artificial light at night affects incubation behavior in the great tit, Parus major [Dataset]. Dryad.


Artificial light at night (ALAN) has been recognized as a biodiversity threat due to the drastic effects it can have on many organisms. In wild birds, artificial illumination alters many natural behaviors that are important for fitness, including chick provisioning. Although incubation is a key determinant of the early developmental environment, studies into the effects of ALAN on bird incubation behavior are lacking. We measured nest temperature in nest boxes of great tits during the incubation period in two consecutive years. Nest boxes were located in eight previously dark field sites that have been experimentally illuminated since 2012 with white, green, or red light, or were left dark. We tested if light treatment affected mean nest temperature, number of times birds leave the nest (off-bout frequency), and off-bout duration during the incubation period. Subsequently, we investigated if incubation behavior is related to fitness. We found that birds incubating in the white light during a cold, early spring had lower mean nest temperatures at the end of incubation, both during the day and during the night, compared to birds in the green light. Moreover, birds incubating in white light took fewer off-bouts, but off-bouts were on average longer. The opposite was true for birds breeding in the green light. Low incubation temperatures and few but long off-bouts can have severe consequences for developing embryos. In our study, eggs from birds that took on average few off-bouts needed more incubation days to hatch compared to eggs from birds that took many off-bouts. Nevertheless, we found no clear fitness effects of light treatment or incubation behavior on the number of hatchlings or hatchling weight. Our results add to the growing body of literature that shows that effects of ALAN can be subtle, can differ due to the spectral composition of light, and can be year-dependent. These subtle alterations of natural behaviors might not have severe fitness consequences in the short-term. However, in the long term they could add up, negatively affecting parent condition and survival as well as offspring recruitment, especially in urban environments where more environmental pollutants are present.


The data includes raw data, processed data, and R analysis scripts (original analysis in R version 4.02). Data consist of life history data and incubation behavior data from 103 great tit nests at 8 experimental field sites in the Netherlands collected in the breeding seasons of 2016 and 2017. Nests were located around lamp posts that emit green, red, or white light at night, or no light. Measured incubation temperatures were summarized into five incubation behavior parameters per incubation day measured (raw temperature data and summarizing script not included here): mean day and night nest temperature; mean variation in night nest temperature; mean off-bout frequency; and mean off-bout duration. The latter two measures were inferred from the data by fitting a running mean (RM) with a time-window of 2h through the nest temperature data with any drops below RM denoting an off-bout. Days with gaps larger than 1h due to temperature logger malfunctioning were excluded, leaving 1032 incubation days for 103 boxes. Additional model output tables and figures have also been included, which can be partly reproduced with the scripts.

Usage notes

All code needed to rerun the analyses can be found in the included R scripts, which also include descriptions of the data sets.

This deposition includes two datasets (incubation-behaviour.RData and incubation-and-fitness.RData), three analysis scripts (script_analysis-nest-temp.R, script_analysis-offbouts.R, and script_analysis-fitness.R), and two word files with accompanying figures and tables respectively.


Philips (Netherlands)

Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij

Dutch Research Council, Award: 260-25310

Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij