Bioenergy Crops Pose Risk as Invasive Species

An interesting article in this week’s ‘Science for Environment Policy’ digest from the EU outlines recent research showing that crops grown specifically for bioenergy could offer a greater risk of becoming invasive than non-bioenergy crops.

In this study, the first which has quantified the invasiveness of bioenergy crops, researchers compared the risks of invasion for 40 bioenergy crops proposed for introduction to Hawaii, to a random sample of 40 non-bioenergy crops, using an established methodology known as ‘Weed Risk Assessment’. The results showed that the bioenergy crops were two to four times more likely to establish wild populations and become invasive. 70% of the bioenergy species were high risk, compared to 25% of the random sample. Bioenergy crops are more likely to be invasive as they are selected for the same traits as belong to many successful invasive species: pest resistance; high biomass or reproductive capacity; tolerance to harsh conditions; ability to thrive as a monoculture.

Some of these risks could be managed so that the benefits of planting the crops outweigh the costs. The researchers encourage governments to consider the invasiveness of bioenergy crops when granting funds or approval for these.

Original paper: Buddenhagen, C.E., Chimera, C. and Clifford, P. (2009). Assessing Biofuel Crop Invasiveness: A Case Study. PloS ONE. 4(4): e5261. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005261.