Biotic soil crust communities contribute valuable ecosystem services and biodiversity in steppe ecosystems. The uncommon crust lichens Acarospora schleicheri, Fuscopannaria cyanolepra, Rhizocarpon diploschistidina, and Texosporium sancti-jacobi are associated with fine-textured soils along rivers of the Columbia Basin. A. schleicheri and R. diploschistidina indicate late-successional habitat and may serve as indicators for other rare or cryptic species associated with similar habitats. Much of the most favorable habitat for these species has been lost to urban and agricultural development. We sought to overlay favorable habitats with wind farm development potential to assess whether these species are likely to be affected by renewable energy development.
We overlaid habitat models for four lichen species on land use and wind farm potential maps. Using a sample of 5,000 points, we determined whether there were differences in probability of occurrence among wind farm potential classes within developed and natural lands using Multi-Response Permutation Procedures. Sites with modeled probability of occurrence greater than 60% were considered “favorable” habitats; for these, a χ2 test allowed us to determine whether favorable habitats were associated with wind farm potential categories.
Sites that are developed for agriculture or have higher wind farm potential coincide with more favorable habitats for uncommon soil crust lichens. Of the favorable habitats for the four focal lichens, 28–42% are already affected by development or agriculture; 5–14% of favorable habitats remain in natural vegetation and are considered sites with fair or good potential for wind farms.
Development of wind energy has the potential to negatively impact uncommon soil crust lichen species because favorable sites coincide with especially good habitat for these species. However, as these renewable energy resources are developed, we have the opportunity to ensure that valuable soil crust functions and diversity are maintained by surveying before construction and planning new facilities such that disturbance to existing habitat is minimized.