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Researchers identify areas of high risk of impact on birds from wind energy with animals with GPS

   ALICANTE, 21 Nov.

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Researchers identify areas of high risk of impact on birds from wind energy with animals with GPS


A work led by researchers from the Ecology Area of ​​the Miguel Hernández University (UMH) of Elche (Alicante) has determined that 20 percent of the peninsular territory is not suitable for the installation of wind turbines due to their "high impact" on the griffon vulture. . “High impact risk” areas from wind energy have been identified with the use of GPS-tagged birds.

Researchers from the UMH Ecology Area Jon Morant, José Antonio Sánchez Zapata and Juan Manuel Pérez García have led the project, in which scientists from the Doñana Biological Station, National Museum of Natural Sciences, Pyrenean Institute of Ecology have also participated. , University of Granada and Pablo Olavide University of Seville, as indicated by the Elche academic institution in a statement.

The use of GPS technology, together with the monitoring of mortality at the foot of the turbine, has made it possible for the first time to map and evaluate the risk of collision for this species in Spain. The researchers have gathered movement data from 177 adult and juvenile griffon vultures and mortality information from 80% of the parks installed in Spain.

The increase in the use of wind energy in Europe and, in particular, in Spain in the last decade, has represented a "breakthrough" in the energy transition, allowing progress in mitigating the effects of climate change of anthropogenic origin.

However, this energy "is not without risks for fauna", for example, it is an "important cause of mortality" for large gliding birds, which suffer high mortality from collision with the blades of wind turbines.

One of the most sensitive species is the griffon vulture, which uses thermal currents to travel. These animals are adapted to gliding over long distances, but when they encounter an obstacle their ability to maneuver is "very reduced."

For this reason, if during their movements they encounter an area with wind turbines they have a "high probability" of not being able to avoid them and that they will end up colliding with them. In the last two decades, more than 9,000 griffon vultures have been recorded dead in wind farms.

Therefore, locating the areas most used by this species would make it possible to determine which areas should be avoided for the implementation of this renewable energy, which "would make it possible to make the expansion of renewable energy and the conservation of these species compatible."

The study, published in the journal 'Environmental Impact Assessment Review', reveals that factors such as the availability of food increase the risk of collision, while causes such as the presence of other vultures and the distance to nesting areas reduce this risk.

The researchers have shown that the areas with the highest risk of collision obtained in the predictive models coincided with those that showed the highest mortality in the field, confirming that the model was "valid for predicting future mortality."

In applied terms, the study has determined that 19% of the Spanish peninsular area presents a "high risk of collision" for adult griffon vultures, while for young birds the risk area is approximately half.

The study also highlights that 18% of the breeding population of griffon vultures is found in areas of high risk of collision, which, in view of the results, entails a "high risk for the survival" of the population. of this species, currently abundant, but also exposed to "a large number of other threats", such as poison and collisions with power lines.

UMH postdoctoral researcher Jon Morant has stressed that it is striking that the current risk of collision is greater in those areas where a large number of wind turbines have already been installed, probably due to the coincidence of areas highly used by vultures and areas with high wind availability.

Also, areas have been found in which "significant wind development" is expected and that put the juvenile specimens of this species at risk. Researchers have highlighted the usefulness of collision risk mapping by validating these results with real mortality data.

In addition, they have highlighted the need to spatially plan the development of wind energy, by selecting areas that entail a low risk for this and other vulnerable species, as well as seeking safer alternatives for biodiversity in a way that allows conservation to be reconciled. of fauna with the development of renewable energies.