Development of a Genoscape Framework for Assessing Population-Level Impacts of Renewable Energy Development on Migratory Bird Species in California

Using a low-cost method to map where and when birds are exposed to energy facilities.

Regents of the University of California, Los Angeles

Recipient

Los Angeles, CA

Recipient Location

26th

Senate District

54th

Assembly District

beenhere

$597,672

Amount Spent

closed

Completed

Project Status

Project Result

The project was completed in 2019, and the final report was received. The researchers developed maps and schedules of the migration routes (genoscape maps) of distinct populations of four birds (Common Yellowthroats, Wilson's Warbler, Burrowing Owls, and American Kestrel) relative to renewable energy sites. Samples from bird carcasses killed at solar and wind facilities were assessed by the genetic methods to estimate the population-level effects. The results support the idea that the majority of individuals exposed to renewable energy development were from the largest genetically distinct populations within each species, whereas carcasses from rare and declining populations made up a smaller percentage of the total number of birds sampled. Prioritization of renewable energy siting varied by the taxonomic groups. Multiple journal articles are being written.

The Issue

While renewable energy facilities offer clean alternatives to our growing energy needs, they have recently come under scrutiny for their impacts on native wildlife. In particular, tens of thousands of protected birds are killed at solar and wind facilities each year. Assessment of the overall impact of these facilities has been hampered because 1) population-level distributions are poorly understood (i.e. do killed individuals come from vulnerable populations?) and 2) current methods for identifying migration routes have low resolution and are extremely costly.

Project Innovation

This project developed a low-cost method to create high-resolution spatial maps of bird populations and migration routes that capitalizes on genomic data. This technology was extended to identify migration routes for additional vulnerable and endangered species, assess population-level impacts of fatalities at renewable energy facilities, and map migration hotspots. This information can help with siting decisions of new facilities as well as operational decisions, such as when to turn off wind turbines to avoid vulnerable population fatalities, reducing the overall number of bird losses at renewable energy facilities. Accurate understanding of the distributions of vulnerable populations in space and time will lead to more effective siting, monitoring, and operation, ultimately lowering costs to California ratepayers.

Project Benefits

This project harnessed the power of genomic data to develop genetic assays for quick, low-cost screening of thousands of individual birds. Researchers created high-resolution maps of population structure and migration routes and applied this information to assess population-level impacts by screening carcasses collected from renewable energy facilities. Genoscape maps were merged with existing spatial data of energy potential to make recommendations for siting new facilities in areas with minimal impact on wildlife.

Environmental & Public Health

Environmental Sustainability

Improved mapping of migration routes of bird populations of concern and their timing may inform renewable energy siting decisions by solar and wind developers and help them target mitigation strategies.

Key Project Members

Project Member

Kristen Ruegg

Subrecipients

Rocket

Institute of Bird Populations

Rocket

Match Partners

Rocket

Regents of the University of California, Los Angeles

Rocket

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