Adverse Impacts of Biofuels on Biodiversity

A recent report by the Earth Policy Institute estimated that one quarter of the US corn crop is being channelled into biofuel production, raising fears of increased food prices and worldwide hunger.  The article presents a rather unsettling quote regarding just how affected the world has become:  “The amount of grain needed to fill the tank of an SUV with ethanol just once can feed one person for an entire year. The average income of the owners of the world’s 940 million automobiles is at least ten times larger than that of the world’s 2 billion hungriest people. In the competition between cars and hungry people for the world’s harvest, the car is destined to win.”  If this world is going to continue to invest as much of its cropland in the biofuels industry, we must be sure to replace the food sources that are lost by such a process.   Also affected by this increase in biofuel production, which I never actually thought of, was the adverse effects that growing fields of simply corn will have on the local biodiversity.  A report has found that vertebrate diversity and abundance are generally lower in bio-fuel crop habitats relative to the non-crop habitats that these crops may replace. The researchers also found that 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 local diversity and abundance of birds. To minimize impacts of biofuel crops on biodiversity, the researchers of this paper recommend management practices that reduce chemical inputs, increase heterogeneity within fields, and delay harvests until bird breeding has ceased.

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