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25 January 2021 Wind energy facilities affect resource selection of capercaillie Tetrao urogallus
Julia Taubmann, Jim-Lino Kämmerle, Henrik Andrén, Veronika Braunisch, Ilse Storch, Wolfgang Fiedler, Rudi Suchant, Joy Coppes
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Abstract

The recent increase in wind energy facilities (WEF) has led to concerns about their effect on wildlife. While the focus of most studies has mainly been on increased mortality of birds and bats due to collision, indirect effects, such as behavioural responses, are currently gaining attention. Indeed, effects of WEF on the behaviour of forest dwelling wildlife still remain largely unknown. Using GPS-tracking of 16 individuals, we studied how seasonal resource selection of the capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, a forest grouse species known as sensitive to disturbance by human presence and infrastructure, was related to wind turbines and other environmental covariates in a wind farm in Sweden. During the lekking season, the probability of site-selection by capercaillie decreased with increasing turbine noise, turbine visibility and turbine shadow. During summer, we found reduced resource selection with increasing proximity to the turbines (up to 865 m), turbine density, noise, shadow and visibility. Furthermore, we found an avoidance of turbine access roads. Due to the high collinearity of the wind turbine predictors it was not possible to identify the specific mechanism causing turbine avoidance. Our study reveals that forest dwelling species with known sensitivity to other forms of human disturbance (i.e. recreation) are also likely to be affected by wind turbine presence. In addition, we provide proximity thresholds below which effects are likely to be present as a basis for conservation planning.

Renewable energy sources are increasingly being exploited to counter anthropogenic climate change, with on-shore wind power being the fastest developing sector (Renewable Energy Network 2018). However, the construction of infrastructure in previously unused or scarcely used landscapes can have considerable impacts on biodiversity and species abundance (Lior 2008, Miller et al. 2014). Negative effects of wind energy facilities (WEF) have been demonstrated for various taxa, such as insects, birds and bats (Kunz et al. 2007, Pearce-Higgins et al. 2009, Helldin et al. 2017, Hötker 2017), but effects are species specific (De Lucas et al. 2007, Pearce-Higgins et al. 2012) and might differ between individuals as well (Winder et al. 2014a). Furthermore, effects of WEF on wildlife can differ depending on weather conditions influencing e.g. visibility or seasonal changes in behaviour (Breuer 2001). Direct effects, such as collisions of birds and bats with the turbines, have been the main focus of research and intervention planning in the past years (Arnett et al. 2008, Loss et al. 2013, De Lucas and Perrow 2017). However, apart from direct mortality, WEF may also have indirect effects through construction and maintenance work, turbine visibility as well as shadow and noise (Pruett et al. 2009, Hötker 2017). Consequently, WEF have been shown to affect vigilance behaviour (Rabin et al. 2006), vocalizations (Zwart et al. 2016, Whalen et al. 2019) and temporal or spatial habitat use of wildlife (Hötker 2017), with reduced use of habitats effectively causing habitat loss (Plumb et al. 2018). Avoidance or reduced use of habitats affected by WEF can negatively impact the exploitation of energy resources, and thus negatively affect populations (Hoover and Morrison 2005, Pearce-Higgins et al. 2009, Pruett et al. 2009, Winder et al. 2014b). Furthermore, fragmentation of forest landscapes by human land use may increase predator abundance (Kurki et al. 1998, Pasanen-Mortensen and Elmhagen 2015) for example infrastructures such as maintenance roads and buildings may concentrate fox activity (MacDonald 1980, Helldin et al. 2017, Hradsky et al. 2017).