Urban renewable energy and ecosystems: integrating vegetation with ground-mounted solar arrays increases arthropod abundance of key functional groups

Abstract

Cities are increasingly developing renewable energy within urban areas, yet the implications for ecosystems have not been explored. This study brings together climate change mitigation policies and ecosystem conservation in urban areas by investigating how ground-mounted solar arrays in parking lots affect arthropod abundance and biodiversity. We assess which arthropods are present under these solar canopies and investigate how integration of vegetation under the solar arrays affects arthropod abundance, abundance of different functional groups, and family richness. We sampled arthropods, collected data on habitat characteristics, and evaluated landscape cover within 2 km of eight study sites around San Jose and Santa Cruz, California. We found substantial abundance and diversity of arthropods underneath ground-mounted solar arrays in urban area parking lots, and that arrays integrated with vegetation have significantly greater arthropod abundance and more detritivores, parasitoids, and family richness. The results demonstrate that ground-mounted solar arrays in parking lots, especially when integrated with vegetation, can be a win-win for climate mitigation, arthropod richness, and ecosystem functioning.

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Data availability

Not applicable.

Notes

  1. 1.

    These numbers reflect a count of all interconnected solar energy projects and applications listed as “ground” in data available from the California Solar Initiative, a program of the California Public Utilities Commission and other partners. The data are publicly available at californiadgstats.ca.gov (last accessed February 12, 2020). We were not able to distinguish between urban and rural settings or the percentage in parking lots.

  2. 2.

    At one site, Harbor High School, we were only able to sample in April and June.

  3. 3.

    Other research demonstrates that integrating vegetation in parking lots is beneficial to keep water in the ecosystem, increase filtration rates, and reduce runoff and pollutant loads (Rushton 2001, 2002). The presence of vegetation, as well as the solar canopies themselves, may also help alleviate heat island effects associated with parking lots (Aniello et al. 1995; Onishi et al. 2010).

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to Jess Fan Brown for her meticulous work identifying arthropods and to Monika Egerer for advice and use of field equipment. We thank the eight schools for permission to conduct the arthropod sampling, and Chip Odom from Live Oak School District for permission and assistance with pilot testing the study at several other schools around Santa Cruz. John H. Armstrong would also like to thank the Hammett Fellowship, awarded by the Department of Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz, for support.

Funding

The Hammett Fellowship, awarded by the Department of Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz, provided support for this research.

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Correspondence to John H. Armstrong.

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Armstrong, J.H., Kulikowski, A.J. & Philpott, S.M. Urban renewable energy and ecosystems: integrating vegetation with ground-mounted solar arrays increases arthropod abundance of key functional groups. Urban Ecosyst (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-020-01063-6

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Keywords

  • Urban solar energy
  • Arthropods
  • Urban ecology
  • Reconciliation ecology
  • Urban biodiversity