Wind farms bad for raptors, but good news for lizards


Big turbines function as apex predators, researchers suggest. Nick Carne reports.


Bird populations decline near wind turbines, but lizards prosper.

Bird populations decline near wind turbines, but lizards prosper.

Laurentiuss/Getty Images

Wind farms appear to offer safe haven to lizards – at least in India.

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Science have found that there are far more lizards in areas with wind turbines than elsewhere, possibly because there are four times fewer predatory birds.

The birds don’t like the turbines, and the lizards like that. Measuring the reptiles’ stress hormone levels shows they are pretty chilled and less wary of people than is normally the case.

The findings indicate that the effects of wind farms on local ecology is not always as straightforward as it might seem.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, the researchers note that the impact of farms on local ecosystems can cascade down the food chain, causing indirect impacts on lower-level animals. In essence, turbines function as added apex predators.

“By reducing the impact of predatory birds in the area, wind turbines cause a cascade of changes in terrestrial prey, driven primarily by the ecological processes of predator release and density-mediated competition,” they write.

“The loss of apex predators worldwide has resulted in far-reaching consequences for ecosystem processes and stability.

“Since the locations of wind farms are mainly determined based on economic rather than environmental considerations, we stress that the consequences of wind farms are greatly underestimated.”

More to the point, they note, wind farms in unique or biodiverse ecosystems illustrate “an unexpected conflict” between the goals from the United Nations Paris Agreement for climate change mitigation and Aichi Biodiversity Targets from the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The study was carried out on the lateritic plateaus in the Western Ghats, a mountain range running parallel with India’s west coast, where there have been wind turbines for between 16 and 20 years.

  1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0707-z
  2. https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement
  3. https://www.cbd.int/sp/targets/
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