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Wind power vs bats: Some species may better absorb losses

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Scientists who analyzed the DNA of bats killed by wind turbines say some species may be better able to absorb losses than others, which one of the researchers said Thursday could lead to more environmentally sensitive siting of wind-power projects.

The study, published online by the science journal Ecological Applications, is the first to use genetic and chemical analysis to assess the impact of wind farms on bats in the Appalachian region, said David Nelson, an associate professor at the University of Maryland’s Appalachian Laboratory in Frostburg.

Hundreds of thousands of bats die each year in collisions with the moving blades of wind turbines, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Maryland researchers looked at two bat species found dead in roughly equal numbers beneath turbines in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. DNA analysis showed that the eastern red bats were from a group with a much larger breeding population — numbering in at least the hundreds of thousands – than the hoary bats.

Nelson said the study suggests red bats, as a species, may be better able to absorb wind-turbine deaths than hoary bats. Although neither species is considered endangered or threatened, “our data are telling us the hoary bats have a much smaller effective population size, which suggests we should be more concerned about the rate at which they’re being killed,” Nelson said.

Chemical analysis of the bats’ hair showed the animals had different migratory patterns, he said.

John Anderson, senior director of permitting policy and environmental affairs for the American Wind Energy Association, an industry trade group, said genetic studies can be helpful in managing wildlife. He said it has long been understood that bats that migrate over long distances are the species most commonly affected by wind farms.

Anderson said the wind industry, in partnership with federal agencies and Bat Conservation International, is investigating several promising techniques, such as acoustic deterrents and operational adjustments, to reduce bat deaths.

The study was funded by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Star Fellowship program.

In related news, New rules to protect threatened bats could affect natural gas site construction.

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