PROJECT

Ecological Interactions

To date, research on renewable energy and conservation has focused on direct (e.g., mortality) or indirect (e.g., displacement) effects of renewable energy activities on a single taxon or species; however, renewable energy development may affect entire trophic systems.

Solar energy is the most promising renewable energy system to meet human demands for electricity, albeit with great potential to contribute to habitat loss. Recently, the rapid build-out of large solar energy facilities in sensitive desert ecosystems represents an intersection where conservation, political, and socioeconomic values collide.

Solar energy production and species conservation in deserts may serve as a model system to test hypotheses regarding ecosystem responses to operational renewable energy projects.

We are elucidating effects of solar energy development on biota by studying “bottom-up” interactions among soils, plants, and animals and solar energy production in the Mojave Desert at one of the world’s largest solar facilities – Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS). We are assessing effects of altered microhabitat conditions caused by site preparation, heliostat configuration and density, and site management at ISEGS on the Milkweed-Danaus Trophic System.

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Our researchers count on donor’s generosity to fund:
  • Travel and accommodations to our field sites where we conduct empirical investigations on the ground
  • Salaries and stipends for student internships, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars

Our applied research will inform management efforts to conserve species and essential biological interactions within entire trophic systems, as well as species and ecosystem services under their umbrella, coincident with imminent renewable energy development.