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The geographic extent of bird populations affected by renewable-energy development

January 5, 2024

Bird populations are declining globally. Wind and solar energy can reduce emissions of fossil fuels that drive anthropogenic climate change, yet renewable-energy production represents a potential threat to bird species. Surveys to assess potential effects at renewable-energy facilities are exclusively local, and the geographic extent encompassed by birds killed at these facilities is largely unknown, which creates challenges for minimizing and mitigating the population-level and cumulative effects of these fatalities. We performed geospatial analyses of stable hydrogen isotope data obtained from feathers of 871 individuals of 24 bird species found dead at solar- and wind-energy facilities in California (USA). Most species had individuals with a mix of origins, ranging from 23% to 98% nonlocal. Mean minimum distances to areas of likely origin for nonlocal individuals were as close as 97 to >1250 km, and these minimum distances were larger for species found at solar-energy facilities in deserts than at wind-energy facilities in grasslands (Cohen's d = 6.5). Fatalities were drawn from an estimated 30–100% of species’ desingated ranges, and this percentage was significantly smaller for species with large ranges found at wind facilities (Pearson's r = −0.67). Temporal patterns in the geographic origin of fatalities suggested that migratory movements and nonmigratory movements, such as dispersal and nomadism, influence exposure to fatality risk for these birds. Our results illustrate the power of using stable isotope data to assess the geographic extent of renewable-energy fatalities on birds. As the buildout of renewable-energy facilities continues, accurate assessment of the geographic footprint of wildlife fatalities can be used to inform compensatory mitigation for their population-level and cumulative effects.

Publication Year 2024
Title The geographic extent of bird populations affected by renewable-energy development
DOI 10.1111/cobi.14191
Authors Hannah Vander Zander, David H. Nelson, Tara Conkling, Taber Allison, James E. Diffendorfer, Thomas Dietsch, Amy L Fesnock, Scott Loss, Patricia Ortiz, Robin Paulmann, Krysta Rodgers, Peter M. Sanzenbacher, Todd E. Katzner
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Conservation Biology
Index ID 70251308
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center; Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center