Paris (AFP) – Wind farms act as the best "predators" in some ecosystems, harming birds at the top of the food chain and causing a domino effect, overlooked by proponents of green energy – wrote the researchers on Monday.
Wind is the fastest growing renewable energy sector, supplying around 4% of global electricity demand.
Nearly 17 million hectares – an area roughly the size of Tunisia – is currently being used to generate wind energy around the world, and scientists warn that developers have "very underestimated" the impact of technology on wildlife.
As part of the new research, an international team of researchers investigated the impact of using wind turbines in Western Ghats, on the list of monuments on the UNESCO list, covering mountains and forests on the west coast of India and the global hotspot of biodiversity.
They found that predatory birds of prey were four times less frequent in the plateau areas where wind turbines were located, a disturbance that permeated the food chain and radically changed the density and behavior of birds.
In particular, the team observed an explosion in a favorite meal of birds of prey, lizards with a fan's throat, in areas dominated by turbines.
What's more, they observed significant changes in the behavior and appearance of lizards, living like in a predator-free environment.
"What was extraordinary to us was a subtle change in the behavior, morphology and physiology of these lizards," said AFP Dr. Maria Thaker, a professor at the Institute of Ecology at the Indian Institute of Science.
When the level of raptors fell around the turbines, just like the rate of predatory attacks the lizards had to deal with.
As a result, the team found that lizards living in and around wind farms have reduced their alertness in the face of a possible threat.
Simulating the "predator attacks", people in the study could have even approached a lizard in the wind farm zones five times than one living away from the turbines before the creatures escaped.
– "Be smart thanks to green energy" –
After the tests, it was found that lizards near windmills have a lower level of stress hormone, which must have occurred in two decades, since wind farms were built in western Ghat.
Wind farms are known to be harmful to birds, disrupting their migration patterns and causing above average mortality.
Thaker said her research, published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, showed that wind farms duplicate the role of the main predator in the food chain, keeping the raptors at bay.
"They evoke changes in the balance of animals in the ecosystem, as if they were the main predators," she said.
"They are" predators "of predators – not in the sense of killing them, but by reducing the presence of birds of prey in these areas."
As human carbon dioxide emissions continue to grow, Thaker said that wind energy is crucial in mitigating the effects of climate change.
However, from the evidence that the impact of wind farms reaches further into Earth's ecosystems than previously thought, it called for greater consideration of the environmental impact of a significant source of green energy.
'Scientists have taken decades to understand that wind turbines have a negative effect on flying animals,' said Thaker.
"We need to be smart how we implement green energy solutions, let's reduce our footprint on the planet and put turbines in places that are already somehow disturbed – for example in buildings."