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Geographic context affects the landscape change and fragmentation caused by wind energy facilities

July 16, 2019

Wind energy generation causes transformation of landscapes as new roads, pads, and transmission lines are constructed. Limiting the landscape change and fragmentation caused by these facilities likely minimizes impacts to biodiversity and sensitive wildlife species. We examined the effects of wind energy facilities’ geographic context on changes in landscape patterns. We digitized the footprints of 39 wind facilities and the surrounding land cover using high-resolution imagery. We then measured landscape pattern before and after facility construction using 3 metrics associated with species responses to habitat loss and fragmentation (amount, core area, and connectivity of undeveloped land) within 1km around newly constructed turbines and roads. New facilities decreased the amount of undeveloped land, on average, by just 1.8% while changes in metrics of landscape pattern were relatively much larger (50 to 140%). Statistical models indicated levels of pre-construction development were a key factor explaining the impact of new wind facilities on landscape metrics, with pre-construction road networks, turbine spacing, and topography having smaller influences. As the proportion of developed land around facilities increased, a higher proportion of the facility utilized pre-construction developed land and a lower density of new roads were built, resulting in smaller impacts to undeveloped landscapes. Building of new road networks was also a predictor of landscape fragmentation. Density of new roads was higher in places with little pre-existing development and may be influenced by facility design. Utilizing existing development and carefully placing turbines may provide opportunities to minimize the impacts of new wind energy facilities.

Publication Year 2019
Title Geographic context affects the landscape change and fragmentation caused by wind energy facilities
DOI 10.7717/peerj.7129
Authors James E. Diffendorfer, Monica Dorning, Jolene Keen, Louisa Kramer, Robert Taylor
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PeerJ
Index ID 70206023
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center