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Variable effects of wind-energy development on seasonal habitat selection of pronghorn

December 9, 2021

In the face of climate change, wind energy represents an important alternative to oil and gas extraction to meet increasing energy demands, but it has the potential to disrupt wildlife populations. Because behavioral adjustments, such as altered habitat selection, are a primary way that long-lived species respond to novel disturbances, we evaluated effects of wind energy development on pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) space use and habitat selection. Using data from GPS-collared female pronghorn in the Shirley Basin of south-central Wyoming, USA, we tested four potential effects of wind turbines on pronghorn space use during the summer and winter: (1) displacement away from wind turbines, (2) increase in size of home ranges, (3) short-term avoidance behavior within home ranges, and (4) changes in avoidance behavior within home ranges over time. We monitored 166 individuals over five summers (2010, 2011, 2018, 2019, and 2020) and 142 individuals over five winters (2009/2010, 2010/2011, 2011/2012, 2018/2019, and 2019/2020) and used resource selection functions to evaluate selection relative to turbines after controlling for other habitat factors, such as snow depth. Although a lack of consistent negative effects of wind turbines on pronghorn across years suggested that wind energy development may have less severe and more intermittent effects on pronghorn than oil and gas development has had on other ungulates, there was a trend toward increased displacement during the study and behavioral avoidance was apparent for individuals in close proximity to turbines. However, pronghorn were highly variable in their fine-scale habitat selection, across both individuals and years, which could make effects of wind energy development difficult to detect. Nevertheless, some individuals, particularly those close to wind-energy facilities, did avoid turbines, which could translate to population-level behavioral or demographic changes over time and affect the resilience and stability of the population. Over time, the accumulation of development, including wind turbines, roads, and fences, can both limit movement and fragment habitat, potentially reaching a critical threshold beyond which populations are negatively impacted.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Variable effects of wind-energy development on seasonal habitat selection of pronghorn
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.3850
Authors Megan Cochran Milligan, Aaron Johnston, Jeff L Beck, Kurt T. Smith, Kaitlyn L. Taylor, Embere Hall, Lee Knox, Teal Cufaude, Cody Wallace, Geneva W. Chong, Matthew Kauffman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Index ID 70236286
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center; Western Ecological Research Center

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