Avalon C.S. Owens is passionate about lights — living lights, especially bioluminescent firefly beetles, and the artificial light that humans impose on the environment. As a Ph.D. candidate in Biology at Tufts University, Avalon is working to better our understanding of how artificial light at night affects firefly populations, and what adjustments we might be able to make to our lighting practices that can help humans and fireflies peacefully coexist for many generations to come. Fireflies are small, but Avalon believes that they can inspire profound environmental progress: conservative lighting practices that protect charismatic flagship species such as these will benefit all nocturnal creatures, many of which are in dire need of dark nights.

Avalon obtained an A.B. in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology from Harvard University, and an M.S. in Entomology from National Taiwan University. She serves on the board of the Zoological Lighting Institute, and has recently finished a term as president of the Cambridge Entomological Club. In her spare time, Avalon enjoys hiking, playing board games, making YouTube videos, and building things.

IDSW Presentation Description:

SEX AND SYNCHRONICITY: Does artificial light at night disturb the courtship of Photinus carolinus fireflies?
The expansion of human activity into natural habitats necessitates the introduction of artificial light at night, which can severely impact local fauna. In recent years, advances in LED technology have enabled the spectral tuning of artificial light sources, which could in theory limit their impact on vulnerable organisms. However, resulting experimental comparisons of candidate eco-friendly colors have mostly considered only one type of fitness effect, and often on only one species. We exposed synchronously flashing Photinus carolinus fireflies at a popular ecotourist site to downwelling illumination of three colors (blue, amber, and red) and recorded the impact on male courtship flash activity, as well as the degree to which the lights attracted flying insects. Our results suggest that spectral tuning has been overpromised as a conservation solution. Instead, dimming, shielding, and otherwise limiting artificial light in both space and time is likely the best method of minimizing its impact on natural habitats.