The IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB) points out that the correct location of wind farms and feeding stations could save hundreds of vultures

parcs eòlics imedeaA scientific study conducted by researchers at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA, CSIC-UIB) in collaboration with the University of La Coruña, the University of California Riverside, and Generalitat Valenciana, analyzes the response of griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) to the shutdown of individual turbines in wind farms and the location of feeding stations away from problem areas. The study is carried out to increase survival and fertility of this species after the food crisis of mad cow disease (2006-2008).IMEDEA researchers who have participated in this study are Alejandro Martínez-Abraín, Giacomo Tavecchia and Daniel Oro, at the Biodiversity and Conservation Department.

The study was located in the eastern part of Spain, between the provinces of Castellón and Teruel, an area with the highest vulture population in the country (approximately 21 percent of the total population of this species in Spain). The research results show that the population of these birds, rapidly growing until the mad cow crisis, suffered a reduction of 24 percent, coinciding with the effects of wind turbines and the lack supply of carrion in the feeding stations for necrophagous birds of prey, due to legal restrictions after the epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Specifically, the vultures had a reduction in survival probability of 30 percent and a reduction in fertility of 35 percent. However, the vulture population regained its previous growth rate faster than expected once the turbines were stopped and feeding stations were opened away from conflict areas. The action of the wind farm turned out to be the root cause of the decline in survival rate and, as clarified by Dr. Alejandro Martinez-Abraín, author of the study, “the rapid recovery was probably due to the action of two natural mechanisms of damping: large immigration from nearby colonies and return to the reproduction of adults who had abandoned reproduction when the crisis started”.

Food shortages and wind turbines

In Spain, vultures and other scavengers are artifically fed by humankind since centuries ago, but these feeding stations were closed during 2006-2007 as part of the measures to control the BSE disease. Previous scientific studies highlight the usefulness of these feeding stations in order to increase the survival of endangered scavengers, although inevitably they are associated with undesirable concentration of species in space.

On the other hand, the risk of death from collision with turbines for wind farms has increased considerably in recent years. These parks are generally located in areas of slope winds, which often coincides with the operational area of the colonies of the scavengers, which use the same air currents to glide.

“Using the capture and recapture data and direct observation to monitor the impact of these changes in the vulture population, we have concluded that both wind farms and supplementary feeding can have complex consequences if the placement of stations alters the spatial patterns of movement, so that the vultures, as they have to deviate from the usual route, are more vulnerable to wind turbines, “explains Martinez-Abraín.

Management efficiency, the key point

The temporary closure of turbines has been an effective short-term management measure, along with long-term availability of food sources scattered in space, away from the wind farms. Thus the scientist stresses the importance of optimal environmental management: “it is essential and recommended that vulture feeding stations mimic as closely as possible the high unpredictability ecological scenario in which the vultures have evolved, having many small stations scattered around the foraging areas of the vultures, thus avoiding the negative effects of concentration around the breeding areas”. In addition, the researcher adds, “this solution is cheaper than managing the closure of entire wind farms or even the suspension of individual wind turbines, which can cause high economic costs”.

The study has been founded by the Biodiversity Service of the Generalitat Valenciana and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation.


Source: IMEDEA


Alejandro Martínez-Abraín, Giacomo Tavecchia, Helen M. Regan, Juan Jimenez, Martin and Daniel Golden Surroca “Effects of wind farms and food Scarcity large scavenging bird species where an epidemic of bovine Following spongiform encephalopathy.” Journal of Applied Ecology doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2011.02080.x

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