Could solar parks accommodate diverse vegetation and rich fauna? How can future solar parks be implemented and managed in favor of insects? Can they support the delivery of ecosystem services, such as pollination and natural pest control? As a PhD candidate at the Plant Ecology & Nature Conservation group (PEN), I aim to find answers to such questions in the coming four years, under the supervision of Dr. David Kleijn, Dr. Thijs Fijen, Dr. Arjen de Groot and Michiel Wallis de Vries.
More specifically, I will study solar parks in the Netherlands and work on identifying which parameters and management styles could support a diverse nature, focusing on vegetation and insects, while avoiding high costs for developers. Solar parks became a hot topic for research in the past years, as the need for renewable energy sources resulted in the development of many new parks woldwide. This creates novel opportunities to enhance biodiversity on fields converted into solar parks: as they were often used for agricultural purposes in the past, these fields might have been under intensive management, dedicated to accommodate low diversity monocultures, with frequent chemical input and human disturbance. In contrast -depending on their management-, solar parks can offer relatively undisturbed site conditions, with little or no direct chemical input and suitable setting for insects. In light of the many research that concluded insect declines in several European countries during the past decades, the potential of solar parks as suitable habitat to enhance insect biodiversity is very interesting. However, there are countless ways of installing the panels and managing the sites, and we lack knowledge on which combinations are most suitable for supporting a rich vegetation and fauna. The outcomes of this research will be integrated into a guideline that offers cost-effective solutions for solar park developers on how to create and manage parks that preserve and enhance nature.