Thermal Tolerance of Ground-Nesting Ants in Solar Panel Microhabitats

Thermal Tolerance of Ground-Nesting Ants in Solar Panel Microhabitats



Caroline Elizabeth Bowers, Leen Sawas


Presentation: 9:00-10:15, Kennedy Union Ballroom



This research investigates the thermal tolerance of ground-nesting ant colonies inhabiting solar panel microhabitats. With increasing popularity of solar panels as a renewable energy source, understanding their impact on local ecosystems and small organisms inhabiting them becomes essential. At our study site, Curran Place, solar panels create three distinct microhabitats with different temperatures. Microhabitats are differently shaded due to the positioning of the panels and the types of vegetation present: (1) directly under the panels is almost entirely shaded (2) aisles between panels are partly shaded during the day; (3) the buffer zone surrounding the panels, which is planted with tall prairie plants, gets direct sunlight. To understand how these microhabitats impact small organisms, such as ground-nesting ants, we collected live ants from each one and tested their ability to tolerate increasing temperatures. We hypothesized that ants living directly under panels would exhibit the lowest tolerance to increasing temperatures. After locating colonies of five different ant morphospecies throughout all three microhabitats, we collected live worker ants and brought them back to the lab for thermal tolerance testing. Ants were subjected to gradually increasing temperatures until their mobility ceased. This temperature was deemed the critical thermal maximum (CTmax), or the highest temperature that the ants could withstand. Utilizing ANOVA and Tukey HSD pairwise comparisons, we observed significant differences in average colony CTmax among ant morphospecies. We found no significant differences in average colony CTmax based on microhabitats that colonies were found in, however, the observed trends aligned with our initial hypothesis. Our research contributes valuable insights into how ground-nesting ants adapt to temperature fluctuations associated with solar panels and provides essential information for understanding and managing the impacts of renewable energy development on local ecosystems.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Independent Research

Primary Advisor

Kathleen A. Kargl, Stephanie Kaitlyn Murray, Chelse M. Prather

Primary Advisor's Department



Stander Symposium, College of Arts and Sciences

Thermal Tolerance of Ground-Nesting Ants in Solar Panel Microhabitats