Electricity-generating wind turbines are an attractive energy source because they are renewable and produce no emissions. However, they have at least two potentially damaging ecological effects. Their rotating blades are hazardous to raptors which occasionally fly into them. And wind turbines are very noisy when active, a feature that may interfere with the lives of animals beneath them. We studied California ground squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi) in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area of Northern California. These squirrels emit vocalizations that alert others to the presence of a predator, and so may be forced to compensate for turbine noise by modifying antipredator behavior. We compared the antipredator behavior of squirrels at two sites, one close to and the other far from turbines, and under two conditions, during baseline and playback of conspecific alarm calls. We generated composite two variables using principle components analysis, one representing vigilance and one representing another cautionary antipredator tactic, for further statistical comparisons. Animals at the Turbine site exhibited elevated levels of vigilance and showed increased caution demonstrated in part, by returning to the area near their burrows during alarm calling. We conclude that this site difference is probably caused by the disparity in turbine noise, since predator abundance, group size, and vegetation type and density were similar for the two sites. Though population level impacts of these behavioral differences remain to be explored, our results indicate that behavioral impacts of turbines on wildlife should be considered during future turbine development.
The Effects of Wind Turbines on Antipredator Behavior in California Ground Squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi)
Title: The Effects of Wind Turbines on Antipredator Behavior in California Ground Squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi)
August 01, 2006
Journal: Biological Conservation
Rabin, L.; Coss, R.; Owings, D. (2006). The Effects of Wind Turbines on Antipredator Behavior in California Ground Squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi). Biological Conservation, 131(3), 410-420.