Hotspots in the grid: avian sensitivity and vulnerability to collision risk from energy infrastructure interactions in Europe and North Africa.


Wind turbines and power lines can cause bird mortality due to collision or electrocution. The biodiversity impacts of energy infrastructure (EI) can be minimised through effective landscape-scale planning and mitigation. The identification of high-vulnerability areas is urgently needed to assess potential cumulative impacts of EI while supporting the transition to zero carbon energy. We collected GPS location data from 1,454 birds from 27 species susceptible to collision within Europe and North Africa and identified areas where tracked birds are most at risk of colliding with existing EI. Sensitivity to EI development was estimated for wind turbines and power lines by calculating the proportion of GPS flight locations at heights where birds were at risk of collision and accounting for species' specific susceptibility to collision. We mapped the maximum collision sensitivity value obtained across all species, in each 5 × 5 km grid cell, across Europe and North Africa. Vulnerability to collision was obtained by overlaying the sensitivity surfaces with density of wind turbines and transmission power lines. Results: Exposure to risk varied across the 27 species, with some species flying consistently at heights where they risk collision. For areas with sufficient tracking data within Europe and North Africa, 13.6% of the area was classified as high sensitivity to wind turbines and 9.4% was classified as high sensitivity to transmission power lines. Sensitive areas were concentrated within important migratory corridors and along coastlines. Hotspots of vulnerability to collision with wind turbines and transmission power lines (2018 data) were scattered across the study region with highest concentrations occurring in central Europe, near the strait of Gibraltar and the Bosporus in Turkey. Synthesis and applications. We identify the areas of Europe and North Africa that are most sensitive for the specific populations of birds for which sufficient GPS tracking data at high spatial resolution were available. We also map vulnerability hotspots where mitigation at existing EI should be prioritised to reduce collision risks. As tracking data availability improves our method could be applied to more species and areas to help reduce bird-EI conflicts.

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