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German Wind Farms Can Kill Bats from Near and Far, Research Suggests

Av Magne Flåten. søndag 8. juli 2012
ScienceDaily (July 2, 2012) - Wind turbines may have large-scale negative
effects on distant ecosystems. Results of research by the Leibniz Institute
for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) demonstrate that bats killed at German
wind turbines originate mostly from northeastern Europe.
The study investigated the provenance of those four bat species which are
most frequently killed by German wind turbines. Bats are of particular
interest because they have a vital and important service function for
ecosystems in regulating population densities of pest insects, and because
many species migrate during spring and autumn across Europe between their
breeding and wintering ranges.
The IZW-researchers analysed the hydrogen stable isotope ratio in the fur
keratin of the bats. Hydrogen has two stable isotopes that share similar
chemical properties but differ in mass. The distribution of these isotopes
varies in a systematic pattern across Europe, with the light isotopes
increasing in atmospheric water from south to north.  
Since bats incorporate the hydrogen stable isotope ratios of their breeding
habitat into their fur, they carry an inert isotopic fingerprint on their
way to their wintering grounds. Therefore, by determining this isotopic
fingerprint, researchers can identify the approximate location where the
animals lived during the breeding season for a few months before they died
at a wind farm.
The study demonstrated that killed Nathusius pipistrelles originated almost
exclusively from the Baltic countries, Belarus and Russia.  
Also, greater noctule bats and Leisler's bats killed by German wind turbines
came from northeastern Europe, probably from Scandinavia, Poland and the
Baltic countries. In contrast, common pipistrelles most probably lived in
nearby local areas around the wind turbines.
Previous studies have already highlighted that more than 200,000 bats are
killed each year by German wind turbines. Researchers are convinced that
such high mortality rates may not be sustainable and lead to drastic
population declines in their breeding ranges. "Bats have a very low
reproductive output, with only one or two offspring per year," says
Christian Voigt from the IZW. Bat populations may need a long time to
recover from any additional losses owing to fatalities at wind turbines if
they recover at all.
Voigt calls for stronger legislative agreements between the E.U. and eastern
European countries. Current international legislation seems to be missing
the large geographical scale of this problem. Germany must play a more
decisive role in this process, given the recent governmental decision to
promote alternative sources of renewable energy, says Voigt. The large-scale
development of wind farms throughout Germany may have negative consequences
for even remote ecosystems in northeastern Europe. Overall, conservationists
and scientists record an increasing number of bat fatalities at wind
turbines. This is partly due to the fact that wind farms are being
increasingly established in forested areas – where people are less annoyed
by their presence but where bats foraging above the tree canopy get into
dangerously close contact with the blades of turbines.  
Recently, researchers discovered that most bats are not killed by directly
hitting the blades of wind turbines but rather by "barrotraumas" – the
inner organs and lungs of bats are lethally damaged when bats are exposed to
rapid pressure reductions behind the blades.
The problem of bat fatalities at wind turbines could be easily solved, says
Voigt. Bat activity is highest at dusk, most importantly during the time of
autumn migration. If the turbines were switched off during this period for
one to two hours, then this would drastically lower the frequency of bat
fatalities, as recent studies suggest, and cause little loss of revenue to
the companies that run the wind turbines.  
Voigt argues "We need an intelligent change in our energy policy, where we
minimise the negative consequences for both people and wildlife."

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