Wind farms now act as a top "predator" in some ecosystems, harming birds at the top of the food chain and triggering a knock-on effect often overlooked by green energy advocates, scientists said Monday.
In particular, the team observed an explosion in the raptors' favorite meal - fan-throated lizards - in areas dominated by the turbines. The researchers found that the number of predatory birds, but also the number of predatory attempts (dive attacks), was four times lower in areas with wind farms than in areas without them.
The study was done in the Chalkewadi plateau in Satara district in the northern Western Ghats which is the site of one of the largest and longest-running wind farms in the region.
The impact of wind farms on flying species has been well documented, with turbines reducing the number of birds and bats in an area and disrupting migration routes.
'We find wind farms reduce the abundance and activity of predatory birds - for example buzzards, hawks and kites - which consequently increases the density of lizards.
In order to record changes in the physiology of lizards, researchers measured hormonal stress reactivity. "These reptiles had reduced levels of corticosterone - the hormone of stress", says Maria Tucker, co-author of the study.
Wind farms arrived in Chalkewadi nearly 20 years ago and Professor Maria Thaker (Bengaluru's Indian Institute of Science) and her team studied their impact on the local ecosystem between 2012 and 2014, said a report in The Hindu.
"We found that densities of the most common lizard species were three times higher in sites with wind turbines compared with those without".
Furthermore, they saw significant changes in lizard behavior and appearance, living as though they were in an essentially predator-free environment.
"They trigger changes to the balance of animals in an ecosystem as if they were top predators", she said.
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