University of Tasmania

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The impact of cave lighting on the bioluminescent display of the Tasmanian glow-worm Arachnocampa tasmaniensis

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 13:23 authored by Merritt, DJ, Clarke, AK
Bioluminescent larvae of the dipteran genus Arachnocampa are charismatic microfauna that can reach high densities in caves, where they attract many visitors. These focal populations are the subjects of conservation management because of their high natural and commercial value. Despite their tourism importance, little is known about their susceptibility and resilience to natural or human impacts. At Marakoopa Cave in northern Tasmania, guided tours take visitors through different chambers and terminate at a viewing platform where the cave lighting is extinguished and a glowing colony of Arachnocampa tasmaniensis (Diptera: Keroplatidae) larvae on the chamber ceiling is revealed. Research has shown that exposure to artificial light can cause larvae to douse or dim their bioluminescence; hence, the cave lighting associated with visitor access could reduce the intensity of the natural display. We used time-lapse digital photography to record light output over 10 days to determine whether cave lighting affects the intensity or rhythmicity of bioluminescence. Simultaneously, another colony in a different section of the cave, away from tourist activity, was photographed over 3 days. Both colonies showed high-amplitude 24 h cycling of bioluminescence intensity, with the peak occurring at 11.50 h at the unvisited site and 12.50 h at the main chamber, so the time of peak display did not appear to be substantially affected by light exposure. Intermittent light exposure experienced by larvae in the main chamber caused detectable reductions in bioluminescence intensity; however, recovery was rapid and the overall shape of the daily bioluminescence curve closely matched that of the unvisited colony. In conclusion, the artificial light exposure regime used in Marakoopa Cave does not have a substantial effect on the timing or quality of the bioluminescence display. The time-lapse photographic monitoring method could be permanently implemented at focal tourism sites to provide information about daily, seasonal and annual fluctuations in the displays, the response to events such as drought and flood, and the population’s ability to recover from adverse conditions.


Publication title

Journal of Insect Conservation








School of Natural Sciences


Springer Netherlands

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Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

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Other environmental management not elsewhere classified

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