- The Eurasian skylark Alauda arvensis is very susceptible to the negative effects of wind farms. In northern Portugal, this evidence is particularly severe due to the skylark's preference for mountain breeding habitats where most wind farms are located. Facing the frequent failure of environmental impact assessments (EIA) to evaluate the cumulative impacts of wind farms on wildlife, this study aimed to develop and test a methodology to quantify local and regional consequences on birds, using skylarks as a test species, taking into account future predictable environmental changes.
- We propose a spatially explicit dynamic approach that combines the results from multiple modelling techniques under a common framework to assess the local and cumulative regional impacts of wind farms on skylark populations. This includes the following: (i) modelling the local impact of wind farms (in terms of collision mortality) on the skylark population dynamics by developing an index for quantitative assessments, (ii) determining the actual and future skylark breeding distribution across northern Portugal and (iii) integrating the above contributions in an emergent spatially explicit regional representation to capture the ecological cumulative consequences as a whole.
- The simulations show an increasing average local impact for the skylark breeding populations directly affected by wind farms, expressed in mean number of collision fatalities per UTM study unit (1 km2), representing 1·3% of the local breeders in 2006 and 4% in 2026.
- The distribution area of skylark breeding populations was predicted to decrease around 4·5% throughout a period of 15 years, as a result of the scenario of climate and land cover changes in the study area. When combined with a concomitant increase in skylark global mortality (c. 184%) induced by all wind farms in the study region, the above trend contributes to an intensification of the regional cumulative impact from 1·2% to 3·7% of the total estimated breeding individuals.
- Synthesis and applications. The proposed modelling framework represents a step forward in evaluating the multi-scale cumulative consequences of wind farms on vulnerable birds, using skylarks as a test species. This could be used in the future to guide monitoring efforts and to improve the applicability of the data bases generated by long-term ecological research and monitoring studies.