Wind farm 'predator' effect changes ecosystems

Christopher Davidson
November 8, 2018

Scientists have found that introducing wind farms can have unsettling effects on the local habitat, comparable to those that happen when you introduce big carnivores.

Wind turbines are vital for sustainable power, providing cheap electricity without producing any sort of pollution.

This study suggests that wind turbines act as an additional top level in the food chain, essentially mimicking the effect an apex predator has on the ecosystem.

We've long since known that wind turbines are a danger to birds.

Most from the negative effects of suffer from birds of prey. To such conclusions researchers in India who studied the populations of birds and lizards in the three districts of the Western Ghats, where the installed wind generators. They found nearly four times more birds of prey in areas without turbines.

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The raptors' prey, fan-throated lizards - small, colourful reptiles that the birds prey on - increased in number and showed altered behaviour, physiology and even less-flamboyant body colours.

Maria Thaker and colleagues at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru surveyed wildlife in India's Western Ghats, where wind turbines have been functioning for the past two decades. Blood samples were collected from lizards picked up from both sites - areas with wind farm and area without wind farms. So few of them were being eaten that they even lost nearly all fear of danger. The lizards, in turn, reduced the population of their own prey species, causing a dramatic change in the ecosystem.

"They trigger changes to the balance of animals in an ecosystem as if they were top predators", she said. Removing one species can change everything else, and usually not in a good way.

The study is important for it shows that wind power projects - now exempt from Environment Impact Assessments - have complex ecological consequences, Shikha Lakhanpal, research scholar at Bengaluru's Ashoka Trust for Ecology and Environment was quoted as saying by The Hindu. Some groups are experimenting with loudspeakers and sound cannons to scare birds away from turbines, and others are reevaluating how turbines are placed to minimize bird casualties.

'There is a strong need for an ecosystem-wide view when aligning green-energy goals with environment protection'.

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