Habitat loss due to land conversion in US southwest deserts

Study finds urban sprawl the bigger culprit in causing potential habitat loss for desert bees

Data resources used via GBIF : 21,556 species occurrences
Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System
At the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California, 300,000 mirrors track the sun in two dimensions and reflect the sunlight to boilers atop three tall power towers. Photo by National Renewable Energy Lab (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

With high potential for renewable energy production, the Southwest deserts of the United States have been promoted for solar facilities to meet increasing demands and green energy targets. Development and production, however, affects habitats and may threaten desert biodiversity.

In this study, researchers from Cornell University investigated the potential habitat loss for Ashmeadiella bees in Southwestern deserts due to land conversion associated with solar power plants compared with general urban sprawl.

Using GBIF-mediated occurrences of ten Ashmeadiella species combined with data from the authors' own collections, they created ecological niche models predicting the potential distribution of the species. Assessing landscape layers and locations of solar power facilities, they estimated land conversion directly related to development of plants.

While the results suggested that land conversion due to development of solar facilities leads to direct habitat loss for all investigated species, the impact of urban sprawl as a whole is much greater. The study recommends incorporating pollinator conservation practices directly into the permitting processes to mitigate the effects of land conversion.

McCoshum SM and Geber MA (2020) Land Conversion for Solar Facilities and Urban Sprawl in Southwest Deserts Causes Different Amounts of Habitat Loss for Ashmeadiella Bees. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society. Kansas Entomological Society 92(2): 468. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2317/0022-8567-92.2.468