Renewable power plants threaten the life of birds

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AGI – Feathers from dead birds provide an estimate of dead species and shed light on one of the biggest threats to the survival of bird species: wind and solar energy systems. This was revealed by a study published in the journal Conservation Biology. The research comes out of growing concern about the decline of global bird populations due to anthropogenic impact.

The researchers performed geospatial analyzes of hydrogen stable isotope data obtained from the feathers of 871 birds found dead at solar and wind energy facilities in California, representing 24 species. They found that the birds killed in the facilities came from a wide area of ​​the continent.

Their geographical origin varied depending on the species and it included a mixture of native and non-native birds. The researchers found that most of the birds killed by the solar plants were not local and peaked during the migration periods of April, September and October.

“Bird mortality has become an unintended consequence of renewable energy development,” said Hannah Vander Zanden, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Florida. “If we want to minimize or even compensate for these deaths, especially in the most vulnerable populations, we need to determine the geographic origin of the affected birds,” explained Vander Zanden.

“In other words – continued Vander Zanden – it is necessary find out if the dead birds are local or come from elsewhere of North America”.

Birds can be killed when they collide with wind turbines, fly into solar panels and mistake them for bodies of water, or are burned by the intense heat of concentrated solar power plants.

Although bird mortality from these energy structures is much lower than that of domestic cats and collisions with buildings, researchers say Efforts to mitigate this problem are essential.

Analysis of natural markers present in the feathers provided information about where the feathers grew based on the water consumed by the birds. “With these markers, we were able to determine whether the bird was local or whether it had migrated from elsewhere,” said Vander Zanden, who is also the principal investigator of UF’s Laboratory of Animal Migration and Ecology.

“The percentage of migratory birds found in wind farms is almost the same as local birds, at 51%,” noted Vander Zanden. “This type of data can help us understand what strategies are best to use minimize or mitigate fatal accidentsVander Zanden emphasized.

“For example,” continued Vander Zanden, “facility management could work with conservationists to improve local habitat to help protect local birds or improve other parts of the range of migratory bird species.” The findings also illustrate the ability of stable isotope data to assess future patterns of bird population growth or decline for a variety of reasons.

Studying animal remains is a non-invasive approach to get information that is otherwise difficult to track and apply to conservation,” Vander Zanden concluded. “It’s a great way to understand the mysteries of animals,” Vander Zanden added.

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