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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects
characteristics of populations of affected species determine the consequences of increased mortality: organisms whose populations are characterized by low birth rate, long life span, naturally low mortality rates, a high trophic level, and small geographic ranges are likely to be most susceptible to cumulative, long-term impacts on population size, genetic diversity, and ultimately, population viability (e.g., McKinney 1997; Purvis et al. 2000). Bats are unusual among mammals with respect to their life-histories, because they typically have small body sizes but long life spans (Barclay and Harder 2003), and the probability of extinction in bats has been linked to several of these characteristics (Jones et al. 2003). Second, the effects of a decline in one species on entire biotic communities is determined by the role of the species in the larger context: losses of keystone species, organisms that have a disproportionately high impact on ecosystem functioning (Power et al. 1996), and those that provide important ecosystem services (Daily et al. 1997) are of most concern. Species that are important predators and perform critical top-down control over communities, and species that are important prey sources can be keystone species in both natural and human-altered ecosystems (Cleveland et al. 2006). Notably, many raptors and insectivorous bats fill these roles. Finally, we do not know how the migration patterns of affected species will influence regional-scale mortality; we also do not understand the consequences of deaths of individuals of these migrating species to the local populations they originate from. Unfortunately this type of information is nearly impossible to obtain.
The ecological influences of wind-energy facilities are complex, and can vary with spatial and temporal scale, location, season, weather, ecosystem type, species, and other factors. Moreover, many of the influences are likely cumulative, and ecological influences can interact in complex ways at wind-energy facilities and at other sites associated with changed land-use practices and other anthropogenic disturbances. Because of this complexity, evaluating ecological influences of wind-energy development is challenging and relies on understanding factors that are inadequately studied. Despite this, several patterns are beginning to emerge from the information currently available. Increased research using rigorous scientific methods will be critical to filling existing information gaps and improving reliability of predictions.
In this chapter, we review the literature on the ecological effects of wind-energy development, focusing on wildlife and their habitats. We then provide an assessment of projected impacts of future development in the Mid-Atlantic Highland region based on the limited information currently available. Finally, we provide an overview of current methods and metrics for monitoring ecological impacts of wind-energy facilities, and propose research and monitoring priorities.