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Wind farms have cascading impacts on ecosystems across trophic levels  

Author:  | India, Wildlife

[abstract] Wind farms are a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels for mitigating the effects of climate change, but they also have complex ecological consequences. In the biodiversity hotspot of the Western Ghats in India, we find that wind farms reduce the abundance and activity of predatory birds (for example, Buteo, Butastur and Elanus species), which consequently increases the density of lizards, Sarada superba. The cascading effects of wind turbines on lizards include changes in behaviour, physiology and morphology that reflect a combination of predator release and density-dependent competition. By adding an effective trophic level to the top of food webs, we find that wind farms have emerging impacts that are greatly underestimated. There is thus a strong need for an ecosystem-wide view when aligning green-energy goals with environment protection.

Numerical effect of wind turbines on predatory birds and lizard prey. a,b, Lateritic habitat on the Chalkewadi plateau (a) with (n = 3 sites) and (b) without wind turbines (n = 3 sites). c, The endemic superb fan-throated lizard S. superba, which lives on the Chalkewadi plateau. d–f, Areas with wind turbines (red box plots) had (d) a significantly lower abundance of predatory birds (birds per 3 h), (e) a significantly lower frequency of raptor attacks on ground-dwelling prey (attacks per 3 h) and (f) significantly higher densities of lizards (lizards per 100 m belt transect) compared with areas with no wind turbines (blue box plots). Box plots show the medians, quartiles, 5th and 95th percentiles, and outliers.

Maria Thaker, Amod Zambre, and Harshal Bhosale
Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru

Nature Ecology & Evolution. Published online November 5, 2018. doi: 10.1038/s41559-018-0707-z

Download original document: “Wind farms have cascading impacts on ecosystems across trophic levels

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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