To meet the expanding land use required for wind energy development, a better understanding of the effects on terrestrial animals’ responses to such development is required. Using GPS-data from 50 freely ranging female reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) in the Malå reindeer herding community, Sweden, we determined reindeer calving sites and estimated reindeer habitat selection using resource selection functions (RSF). RSFs were estimated at both second- (selection of home range) and third-order (selection within home range) scale in relation to environmental variables, wind farm (WF) development phase (before construction, construction, and operation), distance to the WFs and at the second-order scale whether the wind turbines were in or out of sight of the reindeer.
We found that the distance between reindeer calving site and WFs increased during the operation phase, compared to before construction. At both scales of selection, we found a significant decrease in habitat selection of areas in proximity of the WFs, in the same comparison. The results also revealed a shift in home range selection away from habitats where wind turbines became visible toward habitats where the wind turbines were obscured by topography (increase in use by 79% at 5 km).
We interpret the reindeer shift in home range selection as an effect of the wind turbines per se. Using topography and land cover information together with the positions of wind turbines could therefore help identify sensitive habitats for reindeer and improve the planning and placement of WFs. In addition, we found that operation phase of these WFs had a stronger adverse impact on reindeer habitat selection than the construction phase. Thus, the continuous running of the wind turbines making a sound both day and night seemed to have disturbed the reindeer more than the sudden sounds and increased human activity during construction work.