The impact of wind farms on flying species has been well documented, with turbines reducing the number of birds and bats in an area and disrupting migration routes. But a new study finds that the impacts of turbines are more far-reaching than previously thought, acting almost like a new apex predator in an ecosystem.
Ecologists from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore looked at how wind farms in India’s Western Ghats, which have been operating for 16 to 20 years, impacted species throughout the food chain. They found almost four times more birds of prey in areas without turbines. Meanwhile, they found more lizards living in wind farms than elsewhere. These lizards also had lower levels of corticosterone, a stress hormone, and allowed researchers to get closer before running away than in areas without turbines.
“By reducing the activity of predatory birds in the area, wind turbines effectively create a predation-free environment that causes a cascade of effects on a lower trophic level,” the scientists write in the new study, published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
The scientists stress that their research shouldn’t be seen as a reason to stop wind development. But “since the locations of wind farms are mainly determined based on economic rather than environmental considerations… the consequences of wind farms are greatly underestimated,” they write. As a result, wind farms located in areas rich in biodiversity “illustrate an unexpected conflict between the goals from the United Nations Paris Agreement for climate change mitigation and Aichi Biodiversity Targets from the Convention on Biological Diversity.”