March 24, 2017
Photo by: Merlin Tuttle
Thousands of spinning wind turbine blades may be threatening the survival of one of North America’s most widespread migratory bats, according to a study in the May 2017 issue of Biological Conservation. While scientists and the wind industry have known for more than a decade that wind turbines kill bats, the research is the first of its kind to reveal how those fatalities may directly cause dire impacts on a whole population and future of a bat species.
The hoary bat, Lasiurus cinereus, is the species most frequently killed by wind turbines in the U.S. and Canada. Although currently widespread across the continent’s forests, an estimated 128,000 are killed each year.
“We don’t know for sure why, but it seems they may be attracted to turbines,” said Liam McGuire, an assistant professor in the Texas Tech University Department of Biological Sciences who served as senior author on the study. “The mammalian lung also puts bats at more risk than birds. The lung suffers from barotrauma with low pressure zones around turbine blades.”
The study, which brought together international experts, academics and biologists from several federal agencies, looked at hoary bat mortality at wind energy facilities. It revealed that populations of the species may plunge by a staggering 90 percent over the next 50 years if no action is taken to curb the bat mortality.
“As someone who has been fascinated by these animals and worked with them for years, it is more than a little concerning,” McGuire said. “The disappearance of this species is not an unrealistic possibility. I think this piece is important, and especially powerful given the range of groups – academics and government agencies – involved. Hopefully we can use this as a launching pad to start some meaningful dialogue.”
The findings serve as a wakeup call, according to Winifred Frick, senior director of conservation science for Bat Conservation International and lead author on the paper.
“Our study focused on the hoary bat, which has the highest observed fatalities,” Frick said. “Other migratory bats also have high levels of mortality from wind turbines. We need to implement significant conservation measures to reduce mortality from wind turbine collisions and soon. Effective conservation measures will help not just hoary bats but all bats that get killed by turbines.”
While this new research validates concerns shared by the conservation community and wind industry, the future is not all doom and gloom.
“Solutions are within our grasp,” said Mike Daulton, executive director of Bat Conservation International. “We have great hope that this is a problem that the conservation community, key government agencies and the wind industry can work together to solve.”
Bat Conservation International is a nonprofit organization with members in 60 countries and a growing range of international partners. Founded in 1982, Bat Conservation International uses science, education and conservation action to protect bats and their habitats around the world.
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