Ecology of Renewable Energy

Mojave research rev-01-01-01
The California Solar Initiative has spurred renewable energy development in the Central Valley and Desert regions, with >100,000 hectares of land occupied by energy facilities in planning, permitting, or operational stages. Such facilities increase energy sustainability while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but are not cost-free in terms of ecological impact. Installations profoundly alter the landscape, with permanent structures changing natural light and water regimes in ways that can strongly affect plant communities. These changes are likely to favor some species over others: invasive plants may increase where infrastructure or related disturbance facilitate seed movement or create altered microsite conditions favoring invader success. Design and siting of facilities to minimize negative impact thus requires understanding how altered light and runoff patterns affect belowground seed reserves as well as aboveground life stages for both native and exotic species.

In my work with Dr. Ingrid ParkerDr. Rebecca R. HernandezDr. Kara A. Moore, and Dr. Bruce M. Pavlik, I use demographic matrix models to explore the effects of microsite and climatic variability on demographic processes, to ask whether rare, common, and exotic annual species respond differently to these factors, and ultimately assess how response indicates potential for long-term population persistence. Sensitivity analyses of these models show that population growth estimates improve with higher seed bank survival rates, and indeed population performance and persistence likely hinge on belowground dynamics for these and other annual species forming persistent seed banks. Because moisture is known to negatively affect seed survival in other systems, possibly by facilitating soil pathogen attack, novel moisture gradients created by solar infrastructure may have a strong effect on annual plant population dynamics. In 2017-2019, I will test for effects of shade and fungicide treatment as well as seed age on seed viability and germination rates of native and exotic species, incorporating these data into models predicting how microhabitat conditions may drive shifts in population performance and community composition.


I have worked with amazing technicians and consultants on this project. Thanks guys – this work wouldn’t have been possible without you!
sailor banks small  drew  dad