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Identifying areas of wetland and wind turbine overlap in the south-central Great Plains of North America

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Abstract

Context

The North American Great Plains contains > 80,000 wetlands (playas) that are habitat resources for birds. This region has also undergone recent expansion of wind energy development. Areas of overlap between playas and wind energy structures are potential wildlife hazards.

Objectives

We identified areas where conservation values of playas may be compromised by proximity to wind turbines.

Methods

We mapped where playas co-occur with wind-energy structures in a 902,765 km2 area encompassing portions of six U.S. states. At a smaller focal level (59 ~458 km2 Christmas Bird Count [CBC] circles), we developed a habitat quality index based on playa area, density, and inundation frequency, and spatially associated values with locations of wind turbines; we then examined CBC data for three focal species from 1984-2015.

Results

Over 38% of playas were within 8 km of at least one structure, and 1.3% were within 100 m; ~90% of turbines/structures were within 8 km of a playa (2.7% within 100 m). Six CBC circles had high-quality habitat overlapping with high density of wind turbines. Another seven were high quality with few structures, representing valuable areas for future conservation efforts. However, lack of consistent time-series data constrained our ability to detect effects of wind-energy infrastructure installation on birds.

Conclusions

Mapping high-quality habitat areas coincident with wind turbines is a way of identifying overlapping areas of wildlife habitat and sources of mortality without relying on population surveys that may be problematic or lacking altogether. Establishment of innovative protocols will be critical for detecting effects of wind-energy installation, a growing economic sector.

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Acknowledgements

Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation’s Macrosystems Biology grant 1340548 (“Collaborative Research: Climatic and Anthropogenic Forcing of Wetland Landscape Connectivity in the Great Plains”) (NEM), the Elo and Olga Urbanovsky Foundation (LJH), and the Sandy Land Underground Water Conservation District Board (LJH). We thank Blake Grisham (Department of Natural Resources Management, Texas Tech University) and three anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier manuscript draft.

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Correspondence to N. E. McIntyre.

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Heintzman, L.J., Auerbach, E.S., Kilborn, D.H. et al. Identifying areas of wetland and wind turbine overlap in the south-central Great Plains of North America. Landscape Ecol 35, 1995–2011 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-020-01076-8

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