Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2020

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Ecology and Environmental Sciences

Advisor

Brian McGill

Second Committee Member

Brian Olsen

Third Committee Member

Erik Blomberg

Additional Committee Members

Gayle Zydlewski

Cris Hein

Abstract

Bat populations in North America face novel threats from white-nose syndrome and widespread turbine-related mortality related to the rapidly expanding wind power industry in addition to long-standing pressures from habitat loss and degradation. Bats, unlike most small mammals, are long-lived and slow to reproduce, highlighting the importance of understanding and managing anthropogenic sources of mortality. My dissertation research used acoustic bat detectors to measure bat activity at commercial wind projects, predict patterns in risk, and design strategic measures to reduce fatality rates by curtailing turbine operation during periods when bats are most active. Bats collide with wind turbines only when their rotors are spinning, and risk of turbine-related fatality is therefore a dynamic factor that can be manipulated by curtailing turbine operation when bats are active. We first measured inter-detector variation in metrics of acoustic bat activity to understand how the acoustic detection process may affect inferences related to spatial and temporal variation in bat activity. Using acoustic detectors mounted on top of wind turbines at two commercial wind farms in West Virginia, we then demonstrated that the amount of bat activity recorded when turbines were operating aligned closely with bat fatality rates on multiple scales. Accordingly, the metric of bat activity exposed to turbine operation provides a meaningful, quantitative indicator of turbine-related bat fatality risk. Further, bats responded consistently to changing wind speed and temperature at turbines in both wind farms across multiple years, enabling exposed bat activity to be predicted accurately among turbines and years. Building on these results, we simulated exposure of bats to turbine operation and energy loss for curtailment strategies recommended by state and federal agencies in the United States and Canada. By adjusting parameters such as cut-in wind speeds and temperature thresholds, we demonstrated the ability to design strategic curtailment programs that achieve equivalent or greater predicted reductions in bat activity exposure for substantially less energy-production loss. Characterizing fatality risk on a finer scale using acoustics will help regulatory agencies and the wind industry alike reduce risks of population-level impacts to vulnerable bat species while continuing to expand large-scale renewable energy generation.

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