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Examining the Potential for Agricultural Benefits from Pollinator Habitat at Solar Facilities in the United States
- Leroy J. Walston, Shruti K. Mishra, Heidi M. Hartmann, Ihor Hlohowskyj, James McCall, Jordan Macknick
- Environmental science & technology 2018 v.52 no.13 pp. 7566-7576
- Citrus, agricultural land, alfalfa, almonds, cotton, ecological function, ecosystem services, environmental science, foraging, habitats, humans, land use change, pollinating insects, pollination, solar energy, soybeans, spatial data, vegetation, United States
- Of the many roles insects serve for ecosystem function, pollination is possibly the most important service directly linked to human well-being. However, land use changes have contributed to the decline of pollinators and their habitats. In agricultural landscapes that also support renewable energy developments such as utility-scale solar energy [USSE] facilities, opportunities may exist to conserve insect pollinators and locally restore their ecosystem services through the implementation of vegetation management approaches that aim to provide and maintain pollinator habitat at USSE facilities. As a first step toward understanding the potential agricultural benefits of solar-pollinator habitat, we identified areas of overlap between USSE facilities and surrounding pollinator-dependent crop types in the United States (U.S.). Using spatial data on solar energy developments and crop types across the U.S., and assuming a pollinator foraging distance of 1.5 km, we identified over 3,500 km² of agricultural land near existing and planned USSE facilities that may benefit from increased pollination services through the creation of pollinator habitat at the USSE facilities. The following five pollinator-dependent crop types accounted for over 90% of the agriculture near USSE facilities, and these could benefit most from the creation of pollinator habitat at existing and planned USSE facilities: soybeans, alfalfa, cotton, almonds, and citrus. We discuss how our results may be used to understand potential agro-economic implications of solar-pollinator habitat. Our results show that ecosystem service restoration through the creation of pollinator habitat could improve the sustainability of large-scale renewable energy developments in agricultural landscapes.