Beating back biofuel crop invasions
18 February 2010 | News story
The risk of biofuel crops becoming invasive and outcompeting native species is increasing as more advanced crops are planted. This can be managed to reduce the impact on local livelihoods and the environment, according to a report by IUCN.
Ways to reduce this risk have received little or no attention until now. The report sets out recommendations for decision makers and biofuel producers to minimize the risk of crops becoming invasive, ranging from assessing potential traits of biofuel species in a given environment to effective controls when biofuel crops are being transported.
“Current biofuel production is based on established food crops, and while this raises other sustainability concerns, the risk of invasion is not large,” says Nadine McCormick, IUCN Energy Network Coordinator. “However, this risk will increase exponentially as new plants – that grow fast with many seeds in pretty much any land – are cultivated for more advanced biofuels.”
The most important step is prevention. Biofuel crops are not, by definition, invasive but they can be, depending on the area where they’re cultivated and how the crop is grown. However, some plants have a higher risk of causing a biological invasion, if not managed correctly.
For example, the controversial Jatropha curcas is known to have invasive tendencies in Western Australia, but that doesn’t mean that it will be invasive in other parts of the world, for instance in India where it is currently being produced for biofuels. However, extra precautions should be taken to minimise the risk.
Giant reed and elephant grasses both have a history of becoming invasive in many ecosystems – so particular care needs to be taken when assessing the risk of invasion when it is introduced into a new environment.
“Biological invasions from the introduced species themselves, as well as from the production processes, are real risks to biodiversity and livelihoods,” says Geoffrey Howard, IUCN Global Invasive Species Coordinator. “The risks can be reduced by following the guidelines we’ve set out.”
The guidelines developed by IUCN in close cooperation with the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) outline step-by-step recommendations for how to minimise risks of biological invasions along the biofuels supply chain.
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