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Effects of development of wind energy and associated changes in land use on bird densities in upland areas

Abstract—
Wind energy development is the most recent of many pressures on upland bird communities and their habitats. Studies of birds in relation to wind energy development have focused on effects of direct mortality, but the importance of indirect effects (e.g., displacement, habitat loss) on avian community diversity and stability is increasingly being recognized. We used a control‐impact study in combination with a gradient design to assess the effects of wind farms on upland bird densities and on bird species grouped by habitat association (forest and open‐habitat species). We conducted 506 point count surveys at 12 wind‐farm and 12 control sites in Ireland during 2 breeding seasons (2012 and 2013). Total bird densities were lower at wind farms than at control sites, and the greatest differences occurred close to turbines. Densities of forest species were significantly lower within 100 m of turbines than at greater distances, and this difference was mediated by habitat modifications associated with wind‐farm development. In particular, reductions in forest cover adjacent to turbines was linked to the observed decrease in densities of forest species. Open‐habitat species’ densities were lower at wind farms but were not related to distance from turbines and were negatively related to size of the wind farm. This suggests that, for these species, wind‐farm effects may occur at a landscape scale. Our findings indicate that the scale and intensity of the displacement effects of wind farms on upland birds depends on bird species’ habitat associations and that the observed effects are mediated by changes in land use associated with wind‐farm construction. This highlights the importance of construction effects and siting of turbines, tracks, and other infrastructure in understanding the impacts of wind farms on biodiversity.

Darío Fernández‐Bellon, Mark W. Wilson, Sandra Irwin, John O’Halloran
School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University College Cork, Ireland

First published: 22 October 2018; https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13239

Download original document: “Effects of development of wind energy and associated changes in land use on bird densities in upland areas [1]

Download supplemental information: [2] Details on site locations (Appendix S1), survey methods and density calculations (Appendix S2), and bird species recorded and their conservation status and densities (Appendix S3)