When society jumps on a bandwagon, even for a good cause, there may be unintended consequences. The unintended consequence of crop-based biofuels may be the loss of wildlife habitat, particularly that of the birds who call this country's grasslands home, say researchers from Michigan Technological University and The Nature Conservancy.
In a paper published in the October 2009 issue of the journal BioScience, David Flaspohler, Joseph Fargione and colleagues analyze the impacts on wildlife of the burgeoning conversion of grasslands to corn. They conclude that the ongoing conversion of grasslands to corn for ethanol production is posing a very real threat to the wildlife whose habitat is being transformed. One potential solution: Use diverse native prairie plants to produce bioenergy instead of a single agricultural crop like corn.
"There are ways to grow biofuel that are more benign," said Flaspohler, an associate professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Tech. "Our advice would be to think broadly and holistically about the approach you use to solve a problem and to carefully consider its potential long-term impacts."
The rapidly growing demand for corn ethanol, fueled by a government mandate to produce 136 billion liters of biofuel by 2022more than 740 percent more than was produced in 2006and federal subsidies to farmers to grow corn, is causing a land-use change on a scale not seen since virgin prairies were plowed and enormous swaths of the country's forests were first cut down to grow food crops, the researchers say.
"Bioenergy is the most land-intensive way to produce energy, so we need to consider the land use implications of our energy policies," said Fargione, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy's North America Region.
Whether land used to grow corn for ethanol causes a loss of wildlife habitat depends on the type of land use it replaces. Most of the r
|Contact: Jennifer Donovan|
Michigan Technological University