Journal Article

Genetic Identification of Avian Samples Recovered from Solar Energy Installations

Date: 2023/09/06

Author(s): Gruppi C., Sanzenbacher P., Balekjian K., Hagar R., Hagen S., Rayne C., Schweizer T.M., Bossu C.M., Cooper D., Dietsch T., Smith T.B., Ruegg K., Harrigan R.J.

Publication: PLoS ONE, v. 18


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0289949


Renewable energy production and development will drastically affect how we meet global energy demands, while simultaneously reducing the impact of climate change. Although the possible effects of renewable energy production (mainly from solar- and wind-energy facilities) on wildlife have been explored, knowledge gaps still exist, and collecting data from wildlife remains (when negative interactions occur) at energy installations can act as a first step regarding the study of species and communities interacting with facilities. In the case of avian species, samples can be collected relatively easily (as compared to other sampling methods), but may only be able to be identified when morphological characteristics are diagnostic for a species. Therefore, many samples that appear as partial remains, or “feather spots”—known to be of avian origin but not readily assignable to species via morphology—may remain unidentified, reducing the efficiency of sample collection and the accuracy of patterns observed. To obtain data from these samples and ensure their identification and inclusion in subsequent analyses, we applied, for the first time, a DNA barcoding approach that uses mitochondrial genetic data to identify unknown avian samples collected at solar facilities to species. We also verified and compared identifications obtained by our genetic method to traditional morphological identifications using a blind test, and discuss discrepancies observed. Our results suggest that this genetic tool can be used to verify, correct, and supplement identifications made in the field and can produce data that allow accurate comparisons of avian interactions across facilities, locations, or technology types. We recommend implementing this genetic approach to ensure that unknown samples collected are efficiently identified and contribute to a better understanding of wildlife impacts at renewable energy projects.