Do hares benefit from wind farms?

Black-naped hares use wind farm more than forests

August 25, 2018 06:04 pm | Updated 06:06 pm IST

 A wind mill at the study site in the Western Ghats in Karnataka.

A wind mill at the study site in the Western Ghats in Karnataka.

With their tall turbines and rotating blades, wind farms often take the lives of bats and birds. But windmills could be life-savers for black-naped hares, suggests a preliminary study. Researchers find that these hares use a wind farm much more than forested areas in remote Karnataka.

Wind energy was long touted as ‘green’ until scientists began quantifying its various ecological costs, including the direct toll it takes on wildlife. Birds and bats often collide with the blades of wind turbines resulting in their death. Studies show that some groups of birds – such as birds of prey – avoid wind farms altogether.

While conducting research on the impact on birds and bats in a wind farm located in the Harada reserve forest (a scrub jungle in Karnataka's Davangere district) that the team from Coimbatore’s Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) noticed an odd thing: signs of black-naped hare (Lepus nigricollis) in the reserve forest where the turbines were present were numerous, evident from the small, berry-like faecal pellets that they left behind on the wind farm while using the area. Could these little mammals be using the wind farm region more than the forest area where there were no wind turbines?

To find out, the team consisting of doctoral researcher V. Anoop and scientists P. R. Arun and Rajah Jayapal devised a simple field study to analyse the number of fresh hare pellets on the ground in the wind farm and forest as a sign of how intensely the animals used these areas. They counted pellets in 32 rectangular plots in each habitat type. Their results show that the hares did use the wind farms more than they did the forests without wind turbines. According to their simple density calculations, the wind farm had around three hares per hectare while the reserve forests supported at least one hare per hectare.

“But this is not a positive result,” said Mr. Anoop, author of the study published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa. “It suggests that hares are deviating from the norm and using a human-altered landscape more than their natural habitats”

Why could this be happening? The presence of the wind turbines could be eliminating aerial predators such as birds of prey. “Or, it could just be the fact that windmill installations set amongst natural vegetation structurally mimic the forest openings and edges, which are normally preferred by the hares,” said Mr. Anoop. “We hope to study this further. Though wind turbines have been installed in India since 1984, there are not enough studies on how they affect wildlife.”

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