Mojave Milkweed & Solar Development

I am studying the effects of habitat fragmentation on small populations using Mojave milkweed (Asclepias nyctaginifolia). This is a really cool system because some of the study populations are located in the massive Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) facility near Primm, Nevada. At the time of its completion, ISEGS was the largest Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) facility in the world. Uniquely, the builders of the facility elected to avoiding clearing the entirety of the ground beneath the heliostats in order to reduce the impact on the local ecosystem. This saved much of the existing plant-life (although there was still a massive desert tortoise relocation), but everything within the facility is now living in a veritable sea of solar mirrors. Construction on the facility was completed in 2014.

We collected samples from Mojave milkweed populations in and around the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station (ISEGS) of California in 2015 and 2018 to determine the existing population structure and standing genetic diversity of the species. To date, there have not been many genome-wide population genetic studies of desert plant life, so there is still much to learn. Additionally, preservation of this plant is necessary, as it is an essential component of the desert ecosystem. Milkweed serves as a food source for several invertebrates and vertebrates, including the charismatic Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and its Mullerian mimic the Queen (Danaus gilippus). The results of this study will help inform future conservation efforts of this important nexus species in the Mojave Desert.

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