Wind turbines are the world's new "apex predators," killing buzzards, hawks, and other carnivorous birds at the top of the food chain, scientists say.
A study of wind farms in India showed that the number of birds of prey in areas around the turbines is reduced by three quarters.
This has a "ripple effect" throughout the food chain, with small mammals and reptiles adapting their behavior as their natural predators disappear from the sky.
Birds and bats were thought to be most vulnerable to the rise of landscape blotting machines.
However, experts suggest that the effects on the various species are mimicked and the delicate balance of nature is disturbed.
The news is particularly worrisome as most wind farms are built in vast plains and other environments where birds normally occur.
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Wind turbines are the new "predators of the world" that wipe out eagles, hawks and other carnivorous birds at the top of the food chain, scientists say (photo)
Researchers at the Bengaluru Indian Institute of Science studied lizard and bird populations at three wind turbine sites in the Western Ghats.
In areas with wind farms, they found nearly four times fewer buzzards, hawks and kites – a loss of about 75 percent.
In areas without turbines, about 19 birds were detected every three hours, while the number of machines decreased to about five.
This has resulted in a plethora of fan-lobsters, a species found only on the Indian subcontinent, and a popular snack for birds of prey.
The reptile also had lower levels of the stress hormone corticosterone and this changed his lifestyle.
For example, humans managed to get much closer than usual before they ran, because without birds of prey they became less anxious.
The analysis affects wind farms around the world – including the UK, where birds of prey such as owls and eagles are among the top predators.
Co-author of the study, Professor Maria Thaker, said: "From many studies, we know that wind farms affect birds and bats.
"They kill them and interfere with their movement, but we went one step further and found that lizards are affected as well.
"Every time a predator is removed or added, unexpected effects invade the ecosystem.
The researchers studied the lizards and bird populations of three wind turbines in the western ghats of India. In areas with wind farms they found almost four times fewer buzzards, hawks and dragons – a loss of about 75 percent (image file)
"What's actually happening here is that the wind turbines are added to a top predator in the ecosystem."
The study, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, compared populations of birds of prey and lizards on a plateau that has had a wind farm for some 20 years, with a neighboring valley without turbines.
Blood samples were also taken from 144 lizards taken at the two locations in the northern part of the mountain range.
Wind turbines are known to kill big birds like golden eagles.
A recent study by an international team of scientists has shown that the decline of predators at the top is arguably the most overwhelming influence of humanity on the natural world.
These include wolves and lions on land, whales and sharks in the oceans, and large fish in freshwater ecosystems.
The populations of large herbivores such as elephants and bison have also fallen dramatically. The trophic cascade has moved the food chain down.
What are the biggest wind farms in the world?
Wind farms are measured by the amount of megawatts a farm can produce.
A single megawatt (MW) of wind power can power around 1,000 households for one year.
The five largest offshore wind farms in the world are currently:
- The Walney Extension (UK), 659 MW
- London Array (UK), 630 MW
- Gemini (Netherlands), 600MW
- Gode Wind (Germany), 582 MW
- Gwynt y Mor (UK), 576 MW
The five largest onshore wind farms are currently:
- Gansu Wind Farm (China), 7.965 MW
- Alta Wind Energy Center (California), 1.548 MW
- Muppandal wind farm (India), 1,064 MW
- Shepherd's Flat Wind Farm (Oregon), 845MW
- Roscoe Wind Farm (Texas), 781.5 MW