“An ecological perspective on sleep disruption”

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Kévin Tougeron and Paul K. Abram

Advances in the ecology of sleep in insects: linking laboratory and field studies to identify sleep-disruptive factors

Sleep disruption could be an important component of insect ecology

An ant foraging honeydew on an aphid patch. Tougeron and Abram suggest in their article that biotic interactions may be one of the sleep-disruptive factors occurring in the field. Any kind of desynchronization in the circadian rhythms and on sleep patterns of interacting species (e.g. ants and aphids, predators and preys, parasitoids and hosts) due to environmental disturbances may have important consequences on individual fitness and may cascade to community level.
(Photo: Böhringer Friedrich, CC BY-SA 2.5)

Many animals, including insects, spend large proportions of their time apparently doing nothing (i.e., in an inactive state), but the general importance of these periods of inactivity have received very little attention from ecologists. However recent neurobehavioral research, mostly in the laboratory, has demonstrated that most of these inactive periods in insects share the key characteristics of sleep. Furthermore, disrupting this sleep-like state results a sleep “rebound” (more daytime sleep the following day) and performance deficits ranging from impaired learning to reduced longevity.

In a new article in The American Naturalist, Kévin Tougeron and Paul Abram, two researchers from France and Canada, synthesize existing laboratory data on insect sleep research and extrapolate this evidence to the ecology of insects in natural settings, arguing that is a vital but overlooked aspect of their ecology. First, factors likely to disrupt insect sleep are identified, including several aspects of ongoing global change such as warming nights, artificial light at night, and noise and vibrations from human activity. Second, the article discusses potential consequences of sleep disruption for individuals, populations, and communities of insects; these include ecosystem services provided by beneficial insects such as biological control agents and pollinators. The authors hope that this article will help to guide future research in an emerging area, the ecology of sleep. Read the Article