If You Build It, Will They Come? Insect Community Responses to Habitat Establishment at Solar Energy Facilities in Minnesota, USA: Article No. 014053

Leroy Walston, Heidi Hartmann, Laura Fox, Jordan Macknick, James McCall, Jake Janski, Lauren Jenkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus Citations


Global declines in insect populations have important implications for biodiversity and food security. To offset these declines, habitat restoration and enhancement in agricultural landscapes could mutually safeguard insect populations and their pollination services for crop production. The expansion of utility-scale solar energy development in agricultural landscapes presents an opportunity for the dual use of the land for energy production and biodiversity conservation through the establishment of grasses and forbs planted among and between the photovoltaic solar arrays ('solar-pollinator habitat'). We conducted a longitudinal field study across 5 years (2018-2022) to understand how insect communities responded to newly established habitat on solar energy facilities in agricultural landscapes by evaluating (1) temporal changes in flowering plant abundance and diversity; (2) temporal changes in insect abundance and diversity; and (3) the pollination services of solar-pollinator habitat by comparing pollinator visitation to agricultural fields near solar-pollinator habitat with other agricultural field locations. We found increases over time for all habitat and biodiversity metrics: floral rank, flowering plant species richness, insect group diversity, native bee abundance, and total insect abundance, with the most noticeable temporal increases in native bee abundance. We also found positive effects of proximity to solar-pollinator habitat on bee visitation to nearby soybean (Glycine max) fields. Bee visitation to soybean flowers adjacent to solar-pollinator habitat were comparable to bee visitation to soybeans adjacent to grassland areas enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, and greater than bee visitation to soybean field interior and roadside soybean flowers. Our observations highlight the relatively rapid (<4 year) insect community responses to grassland restoration activities and provide support for solar-pollinator habitat as a feasible conservation practice to safeguard biodiversity and increase food security in agricultural landscapes.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-88640


  • biodiversity
  • ecosystem services
  • habitat restoration
  • pollination
  • renewable energy
  • solar energy
  • sustainable development


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