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Prioritizing avian species for their risk of population-level consequences from wind energy development

March 10, 2016

Recent growth in the wind energy industry has increased concerns about its impacts on wildlife populations. Direct impacts of wind energy include bird and bat collisions with turbines whereas indirect impacts include changes in wildlife habitat and behavior. Although many species may withstand these effects, species that are long-lived with low rates of reproduction, have specialized habitat preferences, or are attracted to turbines may be more prone to declines in population abundance. We developed a prioritization system to identify the avian species most likely to experience population declines from wind facilities based on their current conservation status and their expected risk from turbines. We developed 3 metrics of turbine risk that incorporate data on collision fatalities at wind facilities, population size, life history, species’ distributions relative to turbine locations, number of suitable habitat types, and species’ conservation status. We calculated at least 1 measure of turbine risk for 428 avian species that breed in the United States. We then simulated 100,000 random sets of cutoff criteria (i.e., the metric values used to assign species to different priority categories) for each turbine risk metric and for conservation status. For each set of criteria, we assigned each species a priority score and calculated the average priority score across all sets of criteria. Our prioritization system highlights both species that could potentially experience population decline caused by wind energy and species at low risk of population decline. For instance, several birds of prey, such as the long-eared owl, ferruginous hawk, Swainson’s hawk, and golden eagle, were at relatively high risk of population decline across a wide variety of cutoff values, whereas many passerines were at relatively low risk of decline. This prioritization system is a first step that will help researchers, conservationists, managers, and industry target future study and management activity.

Publication Year 2016
Title Prioritizing avian species for their risk of population-level consequences from wind energy development
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0150813
Authors Julie A. Beston, James E. Diffendorfer, Scott Loss, Douglas H. Johnson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Index ID 70169044
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center