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Mono-specific forest plantations are valuable bat habitats: implications for wind energy development

Buchholz, Sascha; Kelm, Volker; Ghanem, Simon J.

FG Ökosystemkunde / Pflanzenökologie

Near-natural or semi-natural forests such as relatively undisturbed and old deciduous or mixed woodland are considered worth protecting and ecologically valuable habitats for bat conservation. In contrast, mono-specific forest plantations are considered ecologically less valuable; thus, decision-makers recommend these plantations as suitable locations for wind power stations and therefore want to further expand wind turbines in these habitats. This is expected to have a strong negative impact on the landscape because forests would be cleared for wind turbine pads and access roads and wind turbines rise above the trees with adverse impacts for bats. Therefore, we argue that, in light of bat conservation, the suitability of forest plantations for wind energy development is not, per se, warranted and that implications of wind power stations, even in mono-specific forest plantations, should be assessed and evaluated. We conducted long-term bat activity monitoring and recorded bat echolocation calls above the canopies of different forest sites (coniferous monoculture plantations and semi-natural mixed deciduous forests) in Germany and compared different forest types in terms of species richness, total bat activity, activity of the three bat species groups and species composition. Generalised linear models revealed that forest type and the amount of forest biotopes did not enhance bat activity. Ordination showed that species composition was not affected by forest type, location and connectivity. Mono-specific forest plantations can harbour a diverse bat fauna with high species activity and are, therefore, valuable bat habitats just as near-natural or semi-natural woodlands are. Environmental impact assessment and mitigation measures are vital in all forest types before and after planning for wind energy turbines. In particular, future planning and approval processes must consider the importance of mono-specific forest plantations for bat species protection.