When food prices shot up due to corn and other crops being used for biofuels, non-food crops, such as reeds and wild grasses have been heralded as a good alternative.
However, scientists warn that, unless carefully managed and understood, these crops could spread—literally—into big problems. On May 20, the Global Invasive Species Program, the Nature Conservancy and the International Union for Conservation of Nature presented a report to the United Nations called “Biofuels Crops and Non-Native Species: Mitigating the Risks of Invasion.” (www.gisp.org/publications/briefing/index.asp)
The report states: “Some of the most commonly recommended species for biofuels production, particularly for biodiesel, are also major invasive alien species in many parts of the world. Thus, their likelihood of becoming invasive needs to be assessed before being cultivated on a large scale for biofuels production in new areas.”
For example, the Florida Native Plants Society is opposing a biofuels project that uses giant reed due to its proximity to the Everglades. Giant reed grows fast, loves water and has drained wetlands and clogged drainage systems where it’s been planted elsewhere, according to The New York Times.
Nature Conservancy scientist Stas Burgiel told the Times these “second-generation” biofuels crops could be safe if introduced in the right places under the right conditions.
The GISP report says risk assessment, managing and contingency planning “should be mandatory for the support of projects to grow biofuels en masse.” It also recommends that countries refrain from using “known potentially invasive alien species for biofuels production programs.”
Otherwise, the report notes, the two biggest causes of biodiversity loss will increase “clearing and conversion of yet more natural areas for monocultures, and invasion by non-native species.”