A new estimate of bat deaths caused by wind turbines concludes that more than 600,000 of the mammals likely died this way in 2012 in the contiguous United States.
The estimate, published in an article in BioScience, used sophisticated statistical techniques to infer the probable number of bat deaths at wind energy facilities from the number of dead bats found at 21 locations, correcting for the installed power capacity of the facilities.
Bats, although not widely loved, play an important role in the ecosystem as insect-eaters, and also pollinate some plants. They are killed at wind turbines not only by collisions with moving turbine blades, but also by the trauma resulting from sudden changes in air pressure that occur near a fast-moving blade.
The article by Mark Hayes of the University of Colorado notes that 600,000 is a conservative estimate; the actual figure could be 50 percent higher. The estimate is in rough agreement with some previous estimates, but bigger than most. The data that Hayes analyzed also suggest that some areas of the country might experience much higher bat fatality rates at wind energy facilities than others: the Appalachian Mountains have the highest estimated fatality rates in Hayes's analysis.
The consequences of deaths at wind energy facilities for bat populations are hard to assess because there are no high quality estimates of the population sizes of most North American bat species. But Hayes notes that bat populations are already under stress because of climate change and disease, in particular white-nose syndrome. The new estimate is therefore worrisome, especially as bat populations grow only very slowly, with most species producing only one young per year.
BioScience, published monthly, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS; http://www.aibs.org). BioScience is a forum for integrating the life sciences that publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles. The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is a meta-level organization for professional scientific societies and organizations that are involved with biology. It represents nearly 160 member societies and organizations. The article by Hayes can be accessed ahead of print as an uncorrected proof at http://www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/ until early December.
The complete list of peer-reviewed articles in the December 2013 issue of BioScience is as follows. These are now published ahead of print.
Rough Trade: Animal Welfare in the Global Wildlife Trade by Sandra E. Baker, Russ Cain, Freya van Kesteren, Zinta A. Zommers, Neil D'Cruze, and David W. Macdonald
A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Analysis of Multifactorial Land Mammal Colonization of Islands by Paul P. A . Mazza, Sandro Lovari, Federico Masini, Marco Masseti, and Marco Rustioni
Managing Multiple Vectors for Marine Invasions in an Increasingly Connected World by Susan L. Williams, Ian C. Davidson, Jae R. Pasari, Gail V. Ashton, James T. Carlton, R. Eliot Crafton, Rachel E. Fontana, Edwin D. Grosholz, A. Whitman Miller, Gregory M. Ruiz, and Chela J. Zabin
Safety in Numbers? Abundance May Not Safeguard Corals from Increasing Carbon Dioxide by Charles Birkeland, Margaret W. Miller, Gregory A. Piniak, C. Mark Eakin, Mariska Weijerman, Paul McElhany, Matthew Dunlap, and Russell E. Brainard
Bats Killed in Large Numbers at United States Wind Energy Facilities by Mark A. Hayes
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