Renewable energy resources have received increased attention because of impacts of fossil fuels on global climate change. In Kansas, USA, optimal sites for wind energy development often overlap with preferred habitats of the Greater Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido), a lek-mating prairie grouse of conservation concern. We tested for potential effects of energy development on male Greater Prairie-Chickens in north-central Kansas. We captured males at 23 leks located 0.04 to 28 km from wind turbines during a 2-yr preconstruction period (2007–2008) and a 3-yr postconstruction period (2009–2011).
First, we tested for effects of proximity to turbines, habitat, and lek size on annual probability of lek persistence and changes in male numbers. We predicted that energy development might result in behavioral avoidance of areas close to turbines, resulting in increased rates of lek abandonment and fewer males attending surviving leks. We found that distance to turbine had a negative effect on lek persistence for leks ,8 km from turbines during the
postconstruction period, supporting the 8-km buffer zone recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an offset for wind energy projects.
Additionally, lek persistence was positively related to number of males counted at a lek and with grassland cover surrounding the lek.
Second, we tested for effects of wind energy development on male body mass. We predicted that degraded habitat conditions might result in decreased body mass for males attending leks near turbines during the postconstruction period. Male body mass was ~2% lower during the postconstruction period, but distance to turbine did not affect body mass. Additional study is needed to determine whether short-term effects of turbines on lek persistence influence population viability of Greater Prairie-Chickens.
The USFWS recommends that new wind energy development should be sited outside of an 8-km buffer zone around active leks in prairie grouse habitat (Manville 2004). Our results show that both male and female Greater Prairie-Chickens have negative behavioral responses to wind energy development within 8 km of turbines (Winder et al. 2014b, present study). Lek persistence was also affected by habitat and number of males. Further work is needed to test for lag effects and to explore how wind energy development may be affecting long-term population-level processes.