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Wind Facilities in Germany Kill Alarming Number of Noctule Bats from Near and Far: Immediate Action Necessary

Peer-reviewed — PLOS One — August 13, 2014 

Abstract

Over recent years, it became widely accepted that alternative, renewable energy may come at some risk for wildlife, for example, when wind turbines cause large numbers of bat fatalities. To better assess likely populations effects of wind turbine related wildlife fatalities, we studied the geographical origin of the most common bat species found dead below German wind turbines, the noctule bat (Nyctalus noctula).

We measured stable isotope ratios of non-exchangeable hydrogen in fur keratin to separate migrants from local individuals, used a linear mixed-effects model to identify temporal, spatial and biological factors explaining the variance in measured stable isotope ratios and determined the geographical breeding provenance of killed migrants using isoscape origin models.

We found that 72% of noctule bat casualties (n = 136) were of local origin, while 28% were long-distance migrants. These findings highlight that bat fatalities at German wind turbines may affect both local and distant populations.

Our results indicated a sex and age-specific vulnerability of bats towards lethal accidents at turbines, i.e. a relatively high proportion of killed females were recorded among migratory individuals, whereas more juveniles than adults were recorded among killed bats of local origin. Migratory noctule bats were found to originate from distant populations in the Northeastern parts of Europe.

The large catchment areas of German wind turbines and high vulnerability of female and juvenile noctule bats call for immediate action to reduce the negative cross-boundary effects of bat fatalities at wind turbines on local and distant populations.

Further, our study highlights the importance of implementing effective mitigation measures and developing species and scale-specific conservation approaches on both national and international levels to protect source populations of bats. The efficacy of local compensatory measures appears doubtful, at least for migrant noctule bats, considering the large geographical catchment areas of German wind turbines for this species.

Introduction

Over the past two decades, wind energy has continuously been promoted in many European and North American countries and is currently widely recognized as an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional energy production such as those based on nuclear and fossil fuels.

However, numerous studies indicate that the establishment of wind turbines may involve negative effects on wildlife species, reaching from direct impacts such as lethal collisions of birds and bats with turbine structures [1], [2], [3] to indirect threats like habitat fragmentation [4].

Recent bat fatality surveys revealed that the numbers of bats killed annually at European and North American wind turbines is alarming [2], [5], [6], with estimates of hundreds of thousands of bats killed by wind turbines in the U.S.A. [7].

On the European continent, Germany and neighboring countries appear to be of particular geographical importance for the connectivity between breeding and wintering areas of many long distance migrants from north-eastern bat populations [8], [9].

Considering that the density of onshore wind turbines is among the highest worldwide in Germany [10] and is projected to expand further in the future [11], immediate action seems advisable to prevent large-scale losses of wildlife individuals and expected declines in wildlife populations.  Continue reading peer-reviewed study here….

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