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Microhabitats associated with solar energy development alter demography of two desert annuals

Citation

Tanner, Karen et al. (2021), Microhabitats associated with solar energy development alter demography of two desert annuals, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.7291/D1ST01

Abstract

Political and economic initiatives intended to increase energy production while reducing carbon emissions are driving demand for solar energy. Consequently, desert regions are now targeted for development of large-scale photovoltaic solar energy facilities. Where vegetation communities are left intact or restored within facilities, ground-mounted infrastructure may have negative impacts on desert-adapted plants because it creates novel rainfall runoff and shade conditions. We used experimental solar arrays in the Mojave Desert to test how these altered conditions affect population dynamics for a closely related pair of native annual plants: rare Eriophyllum mohavense and common E. wallacei. We estimated aboveground demographic rates (seedling emergence, survivorship, and fecundity) over seven years and used seed bank survival rates from a concurrent study to build matrix models of population growth in three experimental microhabitats. In drier years, shade tended to reduce survival of the common species, but increase survival of the rare species. In a wet year, runoff from panels tended to increase seed output for both species. Population growth projections from microhabitat-specific matrix models showed stronger effects of microhabitat under wetter conditions, and relatively little effect under dry conditions (lack of rainfall was an overwhelming constraint). Performance patterns across microhabitats in the wettest year differed between rare and common species. Projected growth of E. mohavense was substantially reduced in shade, mediated by negative effects on aboveground demographic rates. Hence, the rare species was more susceptible to negative effects of panel infrastructure in wet years that are critical to seed bank replenishment. Our results suggest that altered shade and water runoff regimes associated with energy infrastructure will have differential effects on demographic transitions across annual species and drive population-level processes that determine local abundance, resilience, and persistence.

Methods

Please refer to Read Me.rtf file included with the data set.

Usage Notes

Please refer to Read Me.rtf file included with the data set.

Funding

California Energy Commission, Award: EPC-15-060, 500-10-47