Publication 2 – The adequacy of alfalfa crops as an agri-environmental scheme: A review of agronomic benefits and effects on biodiversity

RESEARCH

July 2023

The adequacy of alfalfa crops as an agri-environmental scheme: A review of agronomic benefits and effects on biodiversity

David Gónzalez del Portillo, Beatriz Arroyo, Manuel B. Morales

Agri-environmental programs are one of the mechanisms at the European level to combat agricultural intensification, including the inclusion of alfalfa in crop rotation. This literature review summarizes the information published up to date on the agronomic benefits of alfalfa and its relationship with biodiversity (plants, arthropods, and vertebrates).

According to the information presented, including alfalfa in crop rotations benefits biodiversity. However, its inclusion must be closely monitored to avoid possible adverse effects, such as pests or becoming an ecological trap.

Reference: González del Portillo, D., Arroyo, B., & Morales, M. B. (2022). The adequacy of alfalfa crops as an agri-environmental scheme: a review of agronomic benefits and effects on biodiversity. Journal for Nature Conservation, 126253.

Summary of the relationships between alfalfa cultivation (and its main management practices) and agricultural production and biodiversity, found in the literature. Green ellipses represent aspects favoured by alfalfa, while red ellipses represent aspects negatively affected by alfalfa. Arrows represent relationships (green if positive and red if negative). Yellow ellipses and arrows mean that the relationship can be positive or negative. If an arrow ends outside a box, the effect applies to all elements within it.

Publication 1 EN – Addressing the challenge of photovoltaic growth: Integrating multiple objectives towards sustainable green energy development

RESEARCH

February 2023

Addressing the challenge of photovoltaic growth: Integrating multiple objectives towards sustainable green energy development

Virgilio Hermoso, Gerard Bota, Lluis Brotons, Alejandra Morán-Ordónez

Solar photovoltaic (PV) energy production has increased significantly in recent decades. This increase has positive effects, in terms of contributing to climate change mitigation, and also negative effects, in terms of land use changes associated with PV installations. In order to maximize the former and reduce the latter, proper planning is important to minimize potential conflicts with biodiversity and its conservation.

The paper considers three possible scenarios for photovoltaic development, concluding that the most compatible scenario with biodiversity conservation would be to distribute photovoltaic production according to the area available in each region rather than distributing it homogeneously or grouping it according to the energy needs of its population.

Reference: Hermoso, V., Bota, G., Brotons, L., & Morán-Ordóñez, A. (2023). Addressing the challenge of photovoltaic growth: Integrating multiple objectives towards sustainable green energy development. Land Use Policy, 128, 106592.

Distribution of cells selected for photovoltaic projects (in red) from the set of all available cells (in grey) in the three different scenarios tested in this study (homogeneous across Catalonia, according to the demand in each area and according to the available area). Areas that were not suitable for PV projects are shown in white. The black dots pinpoint the capitals of the four provinces of Catalonia (Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona), which concentrate the population and energy demand of the region.

Comparative study of sampling methods for the Eurasian stone-curlew

RESEARCH

Comparative study of sampling methods for the Eurasian stone-curlew

The Eurasian stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) is a difficult steppe species to study with crepuscular habits, so it is necessary to develop a methodology adapted to the cryptic characterisitics of this species. For this reason, during the spring of 2023, censuses of this species have been carried out following different methodologies and at different times to determine the most effective method for the species.

Once the results of this study have been analyzed, the protocol will be generated and the methodology described will be incorporated into future work carried out within the framework of the chair.

Pilot test to evaluate the effect of photovoltaic solar plants on nest predation

RESEARCH

Pilot test to evaluate the effect of photovoltaic solar plants on nest predation

Nest predation is one of the main regulators of the survival and reproductive success of birds associated with open landscapes. These steppe species typically nest on the ground, so an increase in predation limits the viability of the populations. The infrastructure associated with photovoltaic plants, for example, perimeter fencing or solar panels, can have an effect on the behavior of predators and therefore on the reproductive success rates of steppe birds.

The Steppe Forward Chair is evaluating this possible effect, understudied until now, by placing artificial nests inside and around photovoltaic plants. Possible predators will be identified through camera traps and direct observations in the field.

Assessment of the “lake effect” of photovoltaic solar plants on migratory birds

RESEARCH

Assessment of the “lake effect” of photovoltaic solar plants on migratory birds

Due to the structural design of the solar panels, photovoltaic plants have a smooth and uniform appearance, similar to a sheet of water as they reflect light just as a lake or a pond would. For this reason, photovoltaic plants can have an attracting effect on nocturnal migrating bird species and can be lead to their death due to collision.

To evaluate this possible attraction effect during the migration months, bioacoustic monitoring techniques will be used. Specifically, acoustic recorders will be placed (following the NOCMIG methodology) in photovoltaic plants and control areas to monitor the nocturnal migration of birds by recording their flight calls.

Example of a sonogram of a bird's migration flight call (right) obtained by installing automatic sound recorders (left)

In 2023, the Chair will carry out a pilot study in Murcia during the spring migratory passage and recorders will be installed in future PV plants in Murcia, Toledo and Seville to evaluate the post-reproductive migratory passage in its pre-operational phase.

Steppe bird sampling and target species tagging with GPS transmitters

RESEARCH

Steppe bird sampling and target species tagging with GPS transmitters

With the aim of better understanding the movement patterns and habitat selection of steppe species before photovoltaic solar plants come into operation and after their construction, a total of 48 indiviuals have been tagged with a GPS transmitter during the spring of 2022 and 2023 in four study areas (Zaragoza, Madrid, Toledo and Seville). Specifically, species such as the Little bustard (Tetrax tetrax), Montagu’s harrier (Circus pygargus), and Lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) have been equipped with emitters of different models. Pin-tailed sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata), Black-bellied sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) and Common curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus).

These devices have already provided more than a million localisations, expanding the existing knowledge about the spatial ecology of these declining species, allowing us to evaluate the degree to which they are affected by the inclusion of photovoltaic parks in the agricultural landscape.

Furthermore, with the aim of evaluating the impact of photovoltaic parks on the bird community, the Steppe Forward Chair carries out annual censuses in winter and spring. These surveys are carried out in an area of 5 kilometers around the implementation area, paying special attention to the following species: Great bustard (Otistarda), Little bustard, Montagu’s harrier, Pin-tailed sandgrouse, Black-bellied sandgrouse and Common curlew.

Simultaneously, a mapping of the following potential habitats—fallows, tilled lands and wastelands—for these species is carried out. Knowing their proportion and distribution within the agricultural landscape provides information on the level of intensification in the region and the quality of the steppe habitat.

 

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