Powerlines disturb animal habitats by appearing as disturbing flashes of UV light invisible to the human eye

 

Science Editor

A A A

Wild animals see overhead power cables in remote regions of the countryside as disturbing lines of flashing lights, which could explain why many species avoid electricity pylons to the point where their natural territories become seriously fragmented, scientists said.

A study of wild reindeer in Norway has shown that they can see overhead power lines in the dark because their eyes are sensitive to the flashes of ultraviolet light which are invisible to the human eye but are constantly being emitted by high-voltage electrical transmission, the researchers said.

Many other species, from birds in the Arctic to elephants in Africa, can also see ultraviolet radiation which may explain why different kinds of animals in widely varying habitats all tend to avoid overhead power lines even though they are considered to be inert and invisible to wildlife, they said.

The adult human eye can only see wavelengths of light down to the blue-violet end of the visible spectrum but other animals are able to see well into the ultraviolet range. Reindeer for instance have reflective surfaces at the back of the eye that help them to see UV light on dark winter days, said Professor Glen Jeffery of University College London.

“Reindeer see deep into the UV range because the Arctic is especially rich in UV light. Insulators on power lines give off flashes of UV light,” Professor Jeffery said.

“The animals potentially see not just a few flashes but a line of flashes extending right across the horizon. This is the first bit of evidence that explains why we think they are avoiding power lines,” he said.

High-voltage power cables cause a build-up of ionised gas at certain points on the overhead lines which results in an overall UV glow with occasional, random flashes of UV light as the ionised gases or corona suddenly dissipate. Power companies try to minimise the phenomenon because it causes power leakage, but not to the extent of eliminating them altogether, Professor Jeffery said.

Scientists also know that many animals avoid power lines to the point that it sometimes causes their populations to fragment into separate habitats. But until now the observation could not be easily explained, especially as the avoidance goes on for many decades after the power lines were first erected.

“Animals avoid man-made structures and, in the case of high voltage power lines, this can be by several kilometres. This is perplexing because the suspended cables are neither a physical barrier nor are they associated with human activity,” Professor Jeffery said.

“New information about animal vision along with the characteristics of power lines provides strong evidence that the avoidance may be linked with animals’ ability to detect ultraviolet flashing on power lines that humans cannot see and which they find frightening,” he said.

Anatomical studies of the eyes of about 35 species show that many of them are sensitive to ultraviolet radiation which could help to explain the fragmentation of many remote wildlife habitats from the Arctic to Africa, he added.

The study, published in the journal Conservation Biology and funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, analysed the UV corona associated with power lines in southern Norway, where there are now 23 distinct populations of wild reindeer as a result of habitat fragmentation caused by human infrastructure such as roads and overhead electricity cables, said Nick Tyler of the University of Tromsø in Norway.

“The loss and fragmentation of habitat is the primary threat to biodiversity and human infrastructure is a major and ubiquitous cause of both loss and fragmentation. It is a major global issue,” Dr Tyler said.

 

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
books
Sport
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor