Solar Array Ecosystem Impacts

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Placing solar arrays on farmland and other human-modified landscapes represents a promising area to unite energy production with ecological restoration and the sustained conservation of ecologically valuable land. Despite the potential social, economic, and ecological synergistic benefits that coupling these land uses could create, the impacts of solar arrays on fallowed farmland and other disturbed landscapes remain heretofore unexamined. Supported by a grant from the American Association of University Women, we are characterizing:

1) the direct and indirect effects of utility scale solar arrays on terrestrial microclimatic factors, plant-soil interactions, and their feedbacks to higher trophic levels in newly fallowed cropland overlain by PV arrays; and

2) whether seeding this system with a diverse native and naturalized meadow plant community improves ecosystem recovery in the array system relative to no active management. This work is currently underway in Vermont and at the new solar array on Hampshire College’s campus.

We are also interested in understanding the soundscape of solar arrays and how it may affect local fauna.

This work has recently been featured on the VT Public Radio! 

Papers related to this research:

Fawcett, S., S. Sistla, M. Dacosta-Calheiros, A. Kahraman, A. Reznicek, R. Rosenberg*, E. von Wettberg. Tracking microhabitat temperature variation with iButton dataloggers. In revision. * Undergraduate student co-author.

Talks related to this research:

2018   

Sistla, S. Unexpected impacts of land-based solar arrays: novel habitat heterogeneity formation and its influence on plant-soil interactions. Dartmouth College.

 Sistla, S. Ecology of the built environment: soil, plant, microbe feedbacks in the Anthropocene. Ruderal Ecologies Symposium. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Troy, NY.   

 Sistla, S. Exploring the ecological impacts of utility-scale solar arrays: A New England case study. University of VT and UMASS Amherst.

2017

Sistla, S. Exploring the ecological impacts of utility-scale solar arrays: A New England case study. University of New Hampshire Environmental Science's seminar series.

Rosenberg, R.*, J. DeChiara*, S. SistlaCharacterizing the ecological effects of utility-scale solar arrays on fallow farmland and other disturbed landscapes: Optimizing synergies in energy generation and terrestrial conservation goals. Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting. Portland, OR.

*  Denotes undergraduate researcher.