"Green-green dilemma" requires immediate action to protect wildlife around the world.

04.16.24
Photo by: Ed Arnett

Austin, TX (April 12, 2024) – Scientists are bringing attention to the urgent need for a coordinated global response to the alarming rate of bat fatalities caused by wind turbines, according to a new study in BioScience. Bat Conservation International’s (BCI’s) chief scientist, Dr. Winifred Frick, and Michael Whitby, director of BCI’s Bats and Wind Program, joined an international team of researchers to examine the conflict between wind turbines and biodiversity — including bats, birds, and insects.

Wind energy production around the globe is rapidly growing, with increases of 10-20% per year, with especially fast growth in the Asia-Pacific region, tropics, and Southern Hemisphere. However, while wind turbines provide carbon-friendly electricity, they also kill over 800,000 bats per year — and that’s just in the U.S., Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom where scientists have the best estimates. Wind farms can kill bats through collisions with turbine blades, as well as cause habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation.

“In order for wind energy development to be truly sustainable, it must address the climate crisis without worsening the biodiversity crisis.” says Dr. Frick.

“Bats collide with the rotor blades if they fly too close to them,” says lead author Dr. Christian Voigt, head of the Department of Evolutionary Ecology and bat specialist at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. “Additionally, there is a direct loss of habitat at the construction sites of the turbines as well as an indirect loss, as some bat species avoid turbines over long distances and are therefore driven away from their traditional habitat.”

While data shows nearly 1 million bats per year are killed, researchers do not know the exact cumulative global biodiversity toll of wind energy since many areas where the technology is growing quickly — including areas with high bat diversity, like the tropics — have significant data gaps in terms of knowing what bat species are most vulnerable. More research is needed to learn how wind turbines affect bat species in many regions, including Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Bats provide vital ecosystem services like pest control, seed dispersal, and pollination, and studies show they provide billions of dollars in economic benefits. However, one-third or more of the world’s 1,474 bat species are threatened or data deficient.

Multiple and complementary approaches are key to reducing the long-term biodiversity impacts of wind energy production, according to the study’s authors. Solutions include careful site selection to construct turbines away from ecologically sensitive areas, such as migration corridors. Currently, the most proven method to reduce bat fatalities is curtailment, which means keeping the turbine blades from spinning when bats are active, such as during nights when wind speeds are low, especially during migratory periods. Studies have shown curtailment can reduce bat fatalities by 80%, while reducing electricity yields by as little as 1%. Research continues to find effective ways to minimize the risk to bats by identifying the precise conditions that put bats in danger.

Solutions should include efforts to compensate for habitat loss with proactive habitat restoration and protection of roosting and foraging habitats. Additional research is needed to bridge significant data gaps, especially in the Global South. Another possible risk connected to wind turbines and bats is in offshore wind energy development, as bats are commonly observed over the open ocean.

The authors of this study note that governments, lending institutions, and international organizations play a key role in helping to reconcile the goals of wind energy expansion and biodiversity conservation.

To read the study, please visit https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/advance-article/doi/10.1093/biosci/biae023/7639565?searchresult=1.

About Bat Conservation International

Bat Conservation International is a global conservation organization dedicated to ending bat extinctions. Bat Conservation International works worldwide to conserve caves, restore critical habitats in danger, and ensure the survival of the world’s bat species. For more information, visit batcon.org.

Media Contact: Kathryn Slater 

Tel: 512.327.9721 Ext. 463 

Email: kslater@batcon.org