Deserts are appealing to solar energy developers due to their ideal landscape and weather patterns. However, there have been few studies investigating the effects of solar installations on desert communities.
Deserts are hotspots of rare plant life, and the development of solar facilities has led to the unique opportunity to investigate the effects of habitat disturbances, including changes in water and light patterns, on rare species. One such species being impacted by solar installations is the Mohave milkweed (Asclepias nyctaginifolia). Mohave milkweed is an essential component of the Mohave desert ecosystem, serving as an important food source for several species, including the monarch butterfly. We are studying this plant in and around the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) to determine the population structure and standing genetic variation of the species and to lay the groundwork for future studies quantifying the effects of solar development on desert populations.
Mojave Milkweed growing in the shade of a solar panel.
Our questions in this study are:
- What is the population structure of Mohave milkweed in the Ivanpah valley and how does the ISEGS facility overlay with that structure?
- What is the level of diversity and effective population size of each Mohave milkweed population?
- How much unique and/or adaptive variation is contained within the ISEGS facility?
Studying this system will allow us to better understand the ecological and evolutionary consequences of habitat fragmentation on naturally small populations, as well as inform future conservation efforts of this important nexus species in the Mojave Desert.