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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 686:187-200 (2022)  -  DOI:

Investigating avoidance and attraction responses in lesser black-backed gulls Larus fuscus to offshore wind farms

Daniel T. Johnston1,*, Chris B. Thaxter2, Philipp H. Boersch-Supan2, Elizabeth M. Humphreys1, Willem Bouten3, Gary D. Clewley1, Emily S. Scragg2, Elizabeth A. Masden4, Lee Barber2, Greg J. Conway2, Nigel A. Clark2, Niall H. K. Burton2, Aonghais S. C. P. Cook2

1British Trust for Ornithology Scotland, Stirling University Innovation Park, Stirling FK9 4NF, UK
2British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU, UK
3Computational Geo-Ecology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Sciencepark 904, 1098 XH Amsterdam, The Netherlands
4Environmental Research Institute, North Highland College, University of the Highlands and Islands, Ormlie Road, Thurso KW14 7EE, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Movements through or use of offshore wind farms by seabirds while commuting or foraging may increase the potential for collision with turbine blades. Collision risk models provide a method for estimating potential impacts of wind farms on seabird populations, but are sensitive to input parameters, including avoidance rates (ARs). Refining understanding of avoidance through the use of high-resolution empirical movement data has the potential to inform assessments of the collision impacts of offshore wind farms on seabird populations. We assessed the movements of GPS-tagged lesser black-backed gulls Larus fuscus from a breeding colony in northwest England to estimate the species’ AR and avoidance/attraction index (AAI) to nearby offshore wind farms. To investigate both macro- (0-4 km) and meso-scale (0-200 m) responses to wind turbines, we used calculations of AR and AAI based on simulated vs. observed tracks. We found that birds exhibited an AR of -0.15 (95% CI: -0.44 to 0.06), indicating a degree of attraction within 4 km of the wind farms. However, AAI values varied with distance from wind farm boundaries, with a degree of avoidance displayed between 3 and 4 km, which weakened as distance bands approach wind farm boundaries. Meso-scale avoidance/attraction was assessed with regard to the nearest individual turbine, and flight height relative to the rotor height range (RHR) of the nearest turbine. We found attraction increased below the RHR at distances <70 m, while avoidance increased within the RHR at distances approaching the turbine. We explore how high-resolution tracking data can be used to improve our knowledge of L. fuscus avoidance/attraction behaviour to established wind farms, and so inform assessments of collision impacts.

KEY WORDS: Anthropogenic impact · Collision risks · Seabirds · Tracking · Wind turbines

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Cite this article as: Johnston DT, Thaxter CB, Boersch-Supan PH, Humphreys EM and others (2022) Investigating avoidance and attraction responses in lesser black-backed gulls Larus fuscus to offshore wind farms. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 686:187-200.

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