Genetic Studies of Bats Impacted by Wind Farms
There is increasing evidence that turbines used for power generation at wind farms can cause significant mortality of bats. Several migratory species, including Red Bats (Lasiurus borealis and Lasiurus blossevillii), Hoary Bats (Lasiurus cinereus) and Silver-haired Bats (Lasionycteris noctivagans) seem to be affected most often.
Agencies responsible for addressing the effects of wind turbine mortalities face the difficult task of managing planning, construction, monitoring, and mitigation without basic information about the effects mortalities may be having on the bat populations affected. An interdisciplinary team of researchers is addressing this problem by using genetic methods to gather baseline data on levels of genetic variation, geographic patterns of distribution of this variation, and population sizes of bat species impacted by wind farms. These methods provide not only a means of evaluating the current status of populations, but can allow tracking of population changes over time. Comparisons with data from historical collections (e.g., DNA isolated from tissue samples taked from dry study skins in museum collections) will allow identification of trends that may predate the advent of wind farms.
In order to provide a clear picture of population structure and reduce the error bars on analytical results, large numbers of samples from across the geographic range of a species are needed. Bats killed at wind farms will provide many of the samples needed for this project, although samples collected at other sites and for other purposes will also be included.
Tissue samples will be analyzed using standard methods to isolate and sequence DNA. Both mitochondrial genes (e.g., cytochrome b, D-loop) and nuclear markers (e.g., microsatellites) will be included. Products of this research will include identification of distinct evolutionary lineages and the relationships among them, assessments of current levels of gene flow and genetic structuring among populations, and estimates of past and current populations sizes. We anticipate that bats collected at wind farms in future years will provide samples that can be used to effectively assess the effects of wind farm mortalities on population size and structure at local, regional, and even continental levels.