- Unintended consequences of renewable energy development include collision-caused deaths of birds and bats. Energy companies may risk prosecution if protected species are among the casualties. Shutting down turbines during high collision-risk conditions could reduce mortality rates, and several companies are developing systems to identify such conditions.
- A recent peer-reviewed article published in the Journal of Applied Ecology reported a remarkable ‘82% (75%–89%) reduction in the fatality rate’ of eagles at a wind energy facility due to a device marketed as Identiflight®—remarkable because of the impressive effect size and the extremely high level of precision. We show that reported results stem from four major errors, which, when corrected, give an unremarkable estimate of 50% (−159%, 89%) reduction (or possible increase) in the fatality rate.
- The errors include the following: (i) Ignoring annual variation. They compare the average number of eagle fatalities over 4 years before activation of Identiflight® to the number in a single year after, ignoring annual variation in fatalities. (ii) Unfounded causal inference. Lack of replication (one treatment year at one site) is ignored, leading to unwarranted causal inference. (iii) Inflated effect size. Effect size is inflated by assuming (without providing evidence) that the difference in fatality relative to the mean at a neighbouring site would be exactly repeated at the treatment site. Furthermore, the observed difference in fatalities at the control site depends strongly on the arbitrarily chosen date distinguishing the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ periods, yielding unreliable results. (iv) Inconsistency of data. It is unclear why 7 of 42 reported eagle fatalities were not included in the data analyzed, potentially further inflating the estimated effect size.
- Synthesis and applications. The recent claim, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, that ‘Eagle fatalities are reduced by automated curtailment of wind turbines’ is not supported by the data but stems from errors that led to strongly overstated effect size and precision, and unfounded inference. In theory, automated curtailment has obvious potential for reducing eagle fatalities, but several more years of data at several locations and appropriate statistical analyses will be required to evaluate its effectiveness and to inform management prescriptions involving this technology.