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Hanley Sustainability Institute

UD student research exploring effects of solar panels on pollinator community

By Mark Gokavi

Note: This the third in a three-part series on summer 2021 undergrad research funded by the Hanley Sustainability Institute.

University of Dayton student Brigid Morgan is researching how solar panels at UD’s Curran Place affect the community of pollinators gathering next to the panels.

Under the direction of Associate Biology Professor Chelse Prather, Morgan is a senior biology major with Spanish and philosophy minors. She plans to present her honors thesis in March 2022.

For weeks, she used pollinator traps - different colored containers attracting different species inside and outside the solar array - and took them to the lab to identify them.

“In between sorting the insects I catch with pan traps into order, I've been sorting the ants, bees, and wasps into morphospecies” (differing groups of species that are still similar so they are studied together), Morgan said. “This is to get a better understanding of how this order is using the prairie and responding to the solar panels and disturbances.”

Morgan’s work at the 6-acre spot at 1700 S. Patterson Blvd. could illuminate the environmental effects that this renewable energy has on creatures living near or using the panels as habitat.

“Although I'm still working on analyzing the data, it seems like a common trend that there are always more insects outside of the solar panels than in between the rows. This is likely because there are more plants in the perimeter of the prairie and the insects, especially the pollinators, prefer that area compared to the shaded sections by the panels,” Morgan said. “We've also noticed while out at the prairie that other birds and paper wasps have been building their nests on the underside of the solar panels which move throughout the day. This may be something to look into for further research, especially to see if paper wasps can find their individual nests amongst the monotony of solar panels.”

For more sustainability news and information, visit HSI’s news blog, the Hanley Sustainability Institute website and the sustainability program website. To sign up for HSI’s Sustainability Spotlight newsletter, register here.

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