With Agence France-Presse
Wind farms act as a leading "predator" in some ecosystems, damaging birds at the top of the food chain and causing a knocking effect overlooked by green energy advocates, scientists said on Monday.
Wind is the fastest growing renewable energy sector, which provides about 4% of global electricity demand.
About 17 million hectares – a region around Tunisia – are currently used to produce wind energy globally and researchers have warned that developers have "greatly underestimated" the impact of technology on wildlife.
In a new study, an international team of scientists studied the effects of using wind turbines in the western Ghats, a series of mountains and forests that cover the area of the west coast of India and a global "hotspot" of biodiversity.
They found that raptors were predominantly four times as rare in the areas of the plateau where there were wind turbines, a disorder that destroyed the food chain and radically changed the density and behavior of bird prey.
Specifically, the team found an explosion in the favorite predators meal, which looked like fantastic lizards, in regions dominated by turbines.
In addition, they saw significant changes in the behavior and appearance of lizards, living as they were in an environment essentially free of predators.
"What was remarkable for us was the subtle changes in the behavior, morphology and physiology of these lizards," said Maria Thacker, an assistant professor at the Institute of Science Institute at the Center for Ecological Sciences and head of the study.
As predator levels fell around the turbines, so did the percentage of aggressive attacks faced by lizards.
As a result, the team found that lizards living in and around wind farms have reduced their vigilance by the potential risk.
By simulating "predator attacks," people in the study could get up to five times as close to a lizard in the wind farm zones than one who lives away from the turbines before the creatures leave.
"Be smart with green energy"
After the test, the lizards near the windmills were found to have lower levels of stress hormones, which must have occurred over two decades from the construction of wind farms in the western Ghats.
Wind farms are known to be harmful to birds, disrupting migration patterns and causing more than the average death rate.
Thaeker said her research, published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, showed that wind farms accounted for the role of the top raptor in the food chain, keeping predators on shore.
"They cause changes in the animal's equilibrium in an ecosystem like they were predators," he said.
"They are the predators of raptors – not in the sense of their killing, but by reducing the presence of raptors in these areas."
As man-made carbon emissions continue to rise, Thaker said wind power was vital to mitigate the effects of climate change.
But demonstrating that the impact of wind farms reaches Earth's ecosystems more than he believes in the past, he called for greater consideration to be given to the environmental impact of the vital green energy source.
"It took decades for scientists to realize that wind turbines negatively affect the animals they fly," Thaker said.
"We need to be smart about how to develop green energy solutions. Let's reduce our footprint on the planet and put turbines in places that have already been disturbed somehow – for buildings, for example."