Solar panels could be a threat to aquatic insects, new research shows

There are many threats to aquatic insects from old technologies like farming, roads, buildings and sewage works as we described here earlier in the year.

But here’s one associated with a new technology – solar panels – which can look not just like water, but a kind of super water.

Aquatic insects are attracted to shiny surfaces because of the way they reflect and polarise light. Solar panels can do this even better than water – so are a kind of ‘ecological trap’ – the poor creatures think they are finding a wonderful pond or lake, and end up fried on a glass and metal plate.

Entomologists have even tried this as a sampling technique because you can get the same effect by laying out shiny black plastic on the ground: in areas with lots of  ponds or streams or lakes you can get a rain of insects, especially water beetles, falling on your plastic. Sadly the technique is quite destructive because, in the sun, the plastic rapidly becomes frazzlingly hot – think ant and magnifying glass.  Insects hitting the sheet are dead within seconds.

It’s tempting to think that, since most solar panels are likely to be in very hot (and usually dry) places this won’t be too much of a problem.

The opposite may be the case: in hot landscapes ponds, pools and streams are not only present but they are often  even more vulnerable to impacts than in wet countries: there are not so many of them, they are further apart, and they also suffer disproportionately from ‘old’ technologies already (like being pumped dry to water strawberries or feed tourist showers).

So it’s quite possible that trapping the animals from these already thin-on-the-ground, and under pressure, ecosystems might be even worse than expected.


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