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Balancing future renewable energy infrastructure siting and associated habitat loss for migrating whooping cranes

September 5, 2022

The expansion of human infrastructure has contributed to novel risks and disturbance regimes in most ecosystems, leading to considerable uncertainty about how species will respond to altered landscapes. A recent assessment revealed that whooping cranes (Grus americana), an endangered migratory waterbird species, avoid wind-energy infrastructure during migration. However, uncertainties regarding collective impacts of other types of human infrastructure, such as power lines on migration, variable drought conditions, and continued construction of wind energy infrastructure may compromise ongoing recovery efforts for whooping cranes. Droughts are increasing in frequency and severity throughout the whooping crane migration corridor, and the impacts of drought on stopover habitat use are largely unknown. Moreover, decision-based analyses are increasingly advocated to guide recovery planning for endangered species, yet applications remain rare. Using GPS locations from 57 whooping cranes from 2010 through 2016 in the United States Great Plains, we assessed habitat selection and avoidance of potential disturbances during migration relative to drought conditions, and we used these results in an optimization analysis to select potential sites for new wind energy developments that minimize relative habitat loss for whooping cranes and maximize wind energy potential. Drought occurrence and severity varied spatially and temporally across the migration corridor during our study period. Whooping cranes rarely used areas <5 km from human settlements and wind energy infrastructure under both drought and non-drought conditions, and <2 km from power lines during non-drought conditions, with the lowest likelihood of use near wind energy infrastructure. Whooping cranes differed in their selection of wetland and cropland land cover types depending on drought or non-drought conditions. We identified scenarios for wind energy expansion across the migration corridor and in select states, which are robust to uncertain drought conditions, where future loss of highly selected stopover habitats could be minimized under a common strategy. Our approach was to estimate functional habitat loss while integrating current disturbances, potential future disturbances, and uncertainty in drought conditions. Therefore, dynamic models describing potential costs associated with risk-averse behaviors resulting from future developments can inform proactive conservation before population impacts occur.

Publication Year 2022
Title Balancing future renewable energy infrastructure siting and associated habitat loss for migrating whooping cranes
DOI 10.3389/fevo.2022.931260
Authors Kristen S. Ellis, Aaron T. Pearse, David A. Brandt, Mark T. Bidwell, Wade C. Harrell, Matthew J. Butler, Max Post van der Burg
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70236363
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center