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.

 

Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
News
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
peopleFilm star says he is 'not interested in making money anymore'
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
Sport
footballAccording to revelations from Sergio Aguero's new biography
Life and Style
tech

News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker