Solar development: Super bloom or super bust for desert species?

More currently, operators of the massive Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert are spending around $45 million on desert tortoise mitigation after initial numbers of the endangered animals were undercounted before its construction.

A study published in the journal Ecological Applications from the University of California, Davis, and UC Santa Cruz warns against another potential desert timing mismatch amid the race against and toward rapid renewable energy development.

"Our study suggests that and conservation goals may come into conflict in California's Mojave Desert, which supports nearly 500 rare plant species as well as a rapidly expanding solar industry," said lead author Karen Tanner, who conducted the work as a Ph.D. student at UC Santa Cruz under a grant led by UC Davis assistant professor Rebecca R. Hernandez.

Tanner spent seven years teasing out the demography of two native desert flowers—the rare Barstow woolly sunflower (E. mohavense) and the common Wallace's woolly daisy (E. wallacei), comparing their performance both in the open and under experimental solar panels. The authors wondered, how would desert-adapted plants respond to panels that block light and rainfall? Would rare species respond differently than to these changes?

The rare Barstow woolly sunflower was more sensitive to solar development impacts than its common relative, the woolly daisy in a study by UC Davis and UC Santa. Credit: Karen Tanner

A common Wallace's woolly daisy grows in the Mojave Desert. Common wildflowers appear to be less vulnerable than rare wildflowers to desert solar developments, a study from UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz found. Credit: Karen Tanner

Widflowers blanket the desert near the study site in the Mojave Desert. Credit: Karen Tanner