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Title: Environmental Impacts of Wind Power Development on the Population Biology of Greater Prairie-Chickens

Executive Summary 1. We investigated the impacts of wind power development on the demography, movements, and population genetics of Greater Prairie-Chickens (Tympanuchus cupido) at three sites in northcentral and eastern Kansas for a 7-year period. Only 1 of 3 sites was developed for wind power, the 201MW Meridan Way Wind Power Facility at the Smoky Hills site in northcentral Kansas. Our project report is based on population data for prairie chickens collected during a 2-year preconstruction period (2007-2008), a 3-year postconstruction period (2009-2011) and one final year of lek surveys (2012). Where relevant, we present preconstruction data from our field studies at reference sites in the northern Flint Hills (2007-2009) and southern Flint Hills (2006-2008). 2. We addressed seven potential impacts of wind power development on prairie chickens: lek attendance, mating behavior, use of breeding habitat, fecundity rates, natal dispersal, survival rates, and population numbers. Our analyses of pre- and postconstruction impacts are based on an analysis of covariance design where we modeled population performance as a function of treatment period, distance to eventual or actual site of the nearest wind turbine, and the interaction of these factors. Our demographic and movement data from the 6-year study period at themore » Smoky Hills site included 23 lek sites, 251 radio-marked females monitored for 287 bird-years, and 264 nesting attempts. Our genetic data were based on genotypes of 1,760 females, males and chicks that were screened with a set of 27 microsatellite markers that were optimized in the lab. 3. In our analyses of lek attendance, the annual probability of lek persistence during the preconstruction period was ~0.9. During the postconstruction period, distance to nearest turbine did not have a significant effect on the probability of lek persistence. However, the probability of lek persistence increased from 0.69 at 0 m to 0.89 at 30 km from turbines, and most abandoned lek sites were located <5 km from turbines. Probability of lek persistence was significantly related to habitat and number of males. Leks had a higher probability of persistence in grasslands than agricultural fields, and increased from ~0.2 for leks of 5 males, to >0.9 for leks of 10 or more males. Large leks in grasslands should be a higher priority for conservation. Overall, wind power development had a weak effect on the annual probability of lek persistence. 3. We used molecular methods to investigate the mating behavior of prairie chickens. The prevailing view for lek-mating grouse is that females mate once to fertilize the clutch and that conspecific nest parasitism is rare. We found evidence that females mate multiple times to fertilize the clutch (8-18% of broods, 4-38% of chicks) and will parasitize nests of other females during egg-laying (~17% of nests). Variable rates of parentage were highest in the fragmented landscapes at the Smoky Hills field site, and were lower at the Flint Hills field site. Comparisons of the pre- and postconstruction periods showed that wind energy development did not affect the mating behaviors of prairie chickens. 4. We examined use of breeding habitats by radio-marked females and conducted separate analyses for nest site selection, and movements of females not attending nests or broods. The landscape was a mix of native prairie and agricultural habitats, and nest site selection was not random because females preferred to nest in grasslands. Nests tended to be closer to turbines during the postconstruction period and there was no evidence of behavioral avoidance of turbines by females during nest site selection. Movements of females not attending nests or broods showed that females crossed the site of the wind power development at higher rates during the preconstruction period (20%) than the postconstruction period (11%), and that movements away from turbines were more frequent during the postconstruction period. Thus, wind power development appears to affect movements in breeding habitats but not nest site selection of female prairie chickens during the breeding season. 5. We tested the effects of wind power development on five components of female fecundity: timing of clutch initiation, clutch size of first nests and renests, nest survival, and hatchability of eggs. Average date of clutch initiation was 26 April, clutch size was 12.7 and 10.6 eggs for first nests and renests, probability of nest survival was low at 0.18, but egg hatchability was high at 0.79. Wind power development had no impact on reproductive effort or nesting success, and all five components of fecundity were not related to treatment period or distance to turbine. Nest survival was the main factor limiting reproductive output of female prairie chickens and most losses were due to predation. Daily nest survival was strongly related to vegetative cover at the nest. Changes to rangeland management practices that would double nesting cover from 2.5 to 5 dm would triple the probability of nest survival from 0.17 to 0.52. Grass and forb cover had weak positive effects on daily nest survival whereas shrub cover, proximity to woodlands, and recent rainfall had negative effects. Reproductive performance of prairie chickens is low in managed rangelands in northcentral Kansas and efforts to improve range conditions and reduce predator activity would aid recovery of prairie chicken populations. 6. We used molecular methods to investigate patterns of natal dispersal in prairie chickens. High rates of nest failure limited the number of young that we could sample. Direct detections of natal dispersal were limited because survival of newly hatched chicks to become adults were low and because we were unable to detect dispersal distances outside of our study area. Direct observations of natal movements were limited and were inadequate to make conclusions about the potential impacts of wind energy development on natal dispersal. Spatial correlograms of genetic distance among males at leks were a more sensitive measure of population structure, and indicated a weak effect of wind energy development on the spatial genetic structure of prairie chickens. 7. We tested the effects of wind power development on female survival with time-to-event models, and on residual body mass of males with analyses of covariance. Distance to turbine and the interaction of distance and treatment period had no effect on female survival. Contrary to predictions of negative impacts of wind power development, the probability of female was lowest during the preconstruction period (0.274) and increased significantly during the postconstruction period (0.543). Inspection of hazard functions indicated that the difference in annual survival could be attributed to a higher risk of mortality during the lekking season in the preconstruction period. We suggest that wind power development may have improved ecological conditions for prairie chickens by disrupting the foraging behavior of diurnal raptors that kill prairie chickens at lek sites. In support of this idea, raptor kills tended to be farther from turbines during the postconstruction period whereas mammalian kills were closer. Analyses of the major causes of mortality did not support our hypothesis because the odds of raptor predation were greater after development was completed. Most mortality losses of radio-marked females were due to predation, and losses to collision mortality or harvest were rare events. Low rates of natural mortality during fall and winter imply that harvest is likely to be additive mortality in prairie chickens. Wind energy development reduced the residual body mass of male Greater Prairie-Chickens at lek sites near turbines. Low values of residual body mass could have a negative impact on individual survival or fecundity rates, or may be related to predation risk and flight performance of males displaying at open lek sites. 8. We tested for impacts of wind power development on population numbers of prairie chickens with monitoring of male numbers at leks, and with genetic measures of population structure. Lek counts indicated that wind power development did not affect the population size of prairie chickens. Peak counts of males at leks were recorded the first year after construction was completed and the highest rates of population change were observed during the interval when the wind power facility was constructed. Population numbers of prairie chickens near and distant from turbines appeared to covary in parallel, probably because bird numbers were linked by dispersal movements. Estimates of population viability based on genetic diversity, effective population size and rates of population exchange did not show annual changes and were unaffected by wind development during our study. Estimates of relatedness among males at the same and different leks suggested that wind power development has either reduced dispersal rates or changed settlement patterns, leading to higher rates of relatedness among males displaying at the same lek site. 9. Greater Prairie-Chickens were not strongly affected by wind power development in Kansas. Negative impacts of wind power development included a trend for reductions in lek persistence near turbines, behavioral avoidance of turbines by females during their breeding season movements, and changes in the genetic structure of males at leks that were consistent with reduced dispersal or recruitment rates. We found no impacts of wind power development on nest site selection, female reproductive effort or nesting success, or population numbers. Positive impacts of wind power development included an increase in female survival rates. We hypothesized that the unexpected increase in female survival was related to changes in trophic interactions and disruption of the foraging behavior of raptors that kill prairie chickens at lek site. 10. Research funding for this project included a grant from the 20% Wind by 2030 Program of the Department of Energy (this final report), and grants from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, and initial funding from the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative. Research products from data collected during the preconstruction period have included five peer-reviewed research articles and two PhD dissertations at Kansas State University. Additional manuscripts are in review for possible publication in 2013-2014.« less
  1. Kansas State University
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
Final Technical Report, DOE/EE0000526
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Kansas State University
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE); USDOE EE Office of Wind and Hydropower Technologies (EE-2B)
Contributing Orgs:
Project Oversight from the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative
Country of Publication:
United States
17 WIND ENERGY; behavior, demography, ecology, Kansas, movements, prairie chicken, space use, wind energy, wildlife impacts