WildSNaP: Wildlife in Solar through Native Planting
With the rapid expansion of solar energy across the U.S., it is vital for solar operations to provide positive ecological value by maximizing biodiversity within arrays; yet our knowledge of how solar installations serve as wildlife habitat is currently lacking. Restoration of native grassland vegetation within solar facilities (Native Solar) has begun to gain momentum as an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional gravel or turfgrass management, but few studies have rigorously examined wildlife assemblages within solar arrays across a spectrum of management regimes. Additionally, previous research on wildlife use of solar arrays has often focused on a narrow range of taxa, with limited spatial replication, making it difficult to disentangle effects of vegetation management from those related to other site or landscape characteristics. The WildSNaP project aims to address these knowledge gaps by conducting a large-scale, spatially replicated study of factors influencing use of solar arrays by a broad spectrum of wildlife taxa across a large number of sites in Arkansas and surrounding regions. Specifically, the project will address the following objectives:
Compare wildlife occupancy and species richness in Native Solar arrays to
Determine site, management, and landscape attributes that are most closely associated with increased biodiversity within solar arrays
Engage diverse stakeholder groups to enhance the value of solar arrays as wildlife habitat across the south-central US.
Study Design: We are conducting a spatially replicated comparison of Native Solar sites to solar sites under traditional site management (mown grass or gravel) and nearby paired agricultural sites (hayfield, cattle pasture, row crop) chosen to be typical of pre-installation conditions. Our wildlife surveys target a wide breadth of taxonomic groups (birds, bats, terrestrial mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and pollinators) and will follow a multi-taxa community occupancy / species richness approach, which allows for estimation of species, guild, and community-level responses to site and sampling covariates, while accounting for imperfect detection. These analyses will allow for robust comparisons of species richness between Native Solar, traditional solar, and comparison agricultural sites, as well as evaluation of species-specific, taxonomic group-specific, and ecological guild-specific (e.g., grassland species, wetland species) responses to site management and landscape covariates within Native Solar sites.
US Department of Energy, Solar Energy Technology Office
University of Arkansas: Erica Westerman, Jennifer Ogle
USGS Arkansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit: Brett DeGregorio, Caleb Roberts
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
Comprehensive Botanical Services
- Ben Stratton
- We're looking for students and a post-doc for this project. Please contact Dr. Willson (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
KUAF story on Native Solar (12/23)