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PUNE: A study done in the Satara region of the Western Ghats confirmed the deeper ecological consequences of wind farms in biodiversity-rich areas by establishing a link between such farms and the number of predatory birds and ground-dwelling lizards in their vicinity.
The study, conducted jointly by city-based independent researchers Harshal Bhosale and Amod Zambre and Bengaluru-based Maria Thaker, found that wind farms reduce the number as well as the activity of predatory birds. The drop in the number of such birds, in turn, increases the density of lizards on the ground.
The findings were published in Nature Ecology & Evolution on Monday. The study was done at the Chalkewadi plateau in Satara district. The site was chosen as it has one of the largest and longest-running wind farms in the region. For comparison, the researchers also studied areas in the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve and Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary, which cover a large part of the plateau as well as the adjacent valley.
“Wind energy is considered clean, but it does have a carbon footprint and is also known to disturb bird life. We found almost four times more predatory birds in areas without wind turbines than around wind farms. However, there were more lizards around wind farms. This can be attributed to the presence of fewer predatory bird attacks near wind farms,” Bhosale said.
Zambare added, “Wind turbines cause high mortality in birds and bats from direct impacts, impede bird migration routes and reduce the density and activity of terrestrial mammals.”
The predatory bird species affected include Buteo, Butastur and Elanus. The lizard species that showed an increase in numbers is Sarada superba, a fan-throated lizard endemic to the area.
“The ecological findings were exciting. They showed that wind farms are like ‘top predators’ and their impact can result not only in the decrease of bird activity – which was previously known – but also in indirectly increasing the density of lizards and changes in the morphology, behaviour and physiology of those lizards,” said Bhosale.
There is thus a strong need for an ecosystem-wide view when aligning green-energy goals with environmental protection, the researchers said.
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