threat of energy diversification to a bioregion: a landscape-level analysis of current and future impacts on the US Chihuahuan Desert
McClung, Maureen R. | Taylor, Nathan T. | Zamzow, Benjamin K. | Stone, E. Taylor | Abad, Helena | Moran, Matthew D.
Landscapes are being impacted by rapid change, especially by diversifying energy industries. As this process occurs, habitats with little development and fragmentation are now facing increasing anthropogenic change. We studied current patterns of land use and ecosystem services costs of energy development and predicted future impacts in the US Chihuahuan Desert. We measured land developed and modified by oil and gas, wind, and solar industries and mapped levels of development and fragmentation across the US Chihuahuan Desert, followed by an estimation of annual energy-related ecosystem services costs. Based on energy resource estimates, we then projected future risk of development in the bioregion. The oil and gas industry has developed and fragmented about 27% (58,000 km²) of the US Chihuahuan Desert. Wind and solar comprise small amounts of development and fragmentation. We estimated annual ecosystem services costs of all energy industries at 180 million USD, concentrated in climate regulation, raw materials, and cultural services. Two-thirds of the desert remains relatively unfragmented in a contiguous corridor along the western portion of the bioregion. However, this corridor is threatened by energy expansion, especially wind and solar energy. With this expansion, the bioregion could become highly fragmented and continuity of habitats compromised. We suggest conservation efforts focus on the remaining corridor, while future energy development should occur in areas already highly modified by energy infrastructure. With continuing expansion and diversification of global energy sources, our findings in the Chihuahuan Desert could represent threats to other ecologically valuable bioregions that have historically experienced little industrial development.Show more [+] Less [-]