Is wind energy increasing the impact of socio-ecological change on Mediterranean mountain ecosystems? Insights from a modelling study relating wind power boost options with a declining species

Journal Article

Title: Is wind energy increasing the impact of socio-ecological change on Mediterranean mountain ecosystems? Insights from a modelling study relating wind power boost options with a declining species
Publication Date:
May 15, 2019
Journal: Journal of Environmental Management
Volume: 238
Pages: 283-295
Publisher: Elsevier
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Document Access

Website: External Link

Citation

Ferreira, D.; Freixo, C.; Cabral, J.; Santos, M. (2019). Is wind energy increasing the impact of socio-ecological change on Mediterranean mountain ecosystems? Insights from a modelling study relating wind power boost options with a declining species. Journal of Environmental Management, 238, 283-295.
Abstract: 

The growing concern about future challenges of energy security and climate change has led to the expansion of renewable energy production, with a special emphasis on wind power. Despite the environmental advantages of wind power, it's important to assess the impacts caused by the presence of wind farms on wildlife, particularly on species also affected by habitat loss and degradation. In Mediterranean Europe, the skylark (Alauda arvensis) is a declining passerine that breeds in mountain habitats vulnerable to the abandonment of traditional management practices and climate change. We have created a spatially explicit agent-based model (ABM) in order to replicate the selection of territories, evaluating the effect of wind farms on the mortality rate of breeding males. We were especially interested in assessing the mortality rates related with the interplay between habitat loss due to socio-ecological change and increasing wind power using alternative strategies: adding wind turbines or substituting existing wind turbines by more powerful ones, i.e. repowering. Several known aspects related with the risk of collision of A. arvensis with wind turbines were considered, particularly regarding the male habitat selection and behaviour displayed throughout the breeding season. By simulating a sequential contraction of suitable habitat for the species, we found a substantial increase in the breeding territories superimposed to the wind farm influence zone. In these conditions males' relative mortality was predicted to suffer significant increases. For equivalent wind power, adding wind turbines produced significant increases in the males' relative mortality, whereas repowering didn't. Based on our findings we propose repowering as a defensible strategy to increase wind energy production without increasing A. arvensis collision risk. We highlight that this strategy might also benefit other vulnerable bird and bat species associated with declining habitats of mountain ridges in the Mediterranean region.

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