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Biodiversity conservation in the era of biofuels: risks and opportunities

Robert J Fletcher Jr1*, Bruce A Robertson2,3, Jason Evans1, Patrick J Doran4, Janaki RR Alavalapati5, and Douglas W Schemske2,3

Growing demand for alternative energy sources has contributed to increased biofuel production, but the effects on biodiversity of land-usechange to biofuel crops remain unclear. Using a meta-analysis for crops being used –
that these crops may replace. Diversity effects are greater for corn than for pine and poplar, and birds of conservation concern experience greater negative effects from corn than species of less concern. Yet conversion of row-crop fields to grasslands dedicated to biofuels could increase localdiversity and abundance of birds. To minimize impacts of biofuel crops on biodiversity, we rec- ommend management practices that reduce chemical inputs, increase heterogeneity within fields, and delay harvests until bird breeding has ceased. We encourage research that will move us toward a sustainable biofuels economy, including the use of native plants, development of robustenvironmental criteria for evaluating bio- fuel crops, and integrated cost–benefit analysis of potential land-use change.

Front Ecol Environ 2011; 9(3): 161–168, doi:10.1890/090091 (published online 23 Feb 2010)

ver-increasing energy demands, volatile petroleum prices, and growing concerns about climate change
stantial shift in land area devoted to the production of biofuel crops is expected(eg Donner and Kucharik 2008;
have spurred worldwide interest in alternatives to fossil
et al. 2009).
fuels. Biofuels, or fuels produced from biomass, have become a major focus of attention, because they represent a potential means of both reducing dependence on fossil fuels and lowering net emissions of atmospheric CO2 (Fargione et al. 2008; Charles 2009). In the US, legisla-tion has stimulated rapid expansion of biofuel production by subsidizing producers and refiners, enacting tariffs on imports, and requiring benchmark production goals (US Congress 2007). To meet these production goals, a sub-

In a nutshell:

• Land-use change resulting in increased production of three biofuel crops is expected to decrease local species diversity
• Thereduction in diversity caused by increased corn produc- tion will likely be greater than that for other biofuel crops, such as Poplar
• The consequences to biodiversity of second-generation bio- fuel crops, such as switchgrass and Miscanthus, are largely unstudied
• Opportunities exist to develop biofuel cropping systems that could provide net biodiversity benefits

1Department of WildlifeEcology and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL *(; 2WK Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, Hickory Corners, MI;
3DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and Department of
Plant Biology, Michigan State University, Lansing, MI; 4The Nature Conservancy, Michigan Field Office, Lansing, MI; 5Department of Forestry, Virginia TechUniversity, Blacksburg, VA
Because of the importance of habitat alteration to bio- diversity, there is an urgent need for information regard- ing the potential consequences of increased biofuel pro- duction on biodiversity (Robertson et al. 2008). Using a quantitative meta-analysis, we evaluate the biodiversity value of different biofuel crops being considered in the US relative to habitats thatthey could replace. We then discuss the role of management strategies relevant to bio- fuels production and biodiversity within fields and across production landscapes. Finally, we identify important open questions and research needs, and highlight oppor- tunities for biodiversity conservation associated with increased biofuel production.

n Biofuel crops of the present and future

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