Bioenergy Crops Better for Biodiversity Than Food-Based Agriculture


A study led by the University of Southampton suggests a greater diversity of plants and animals can be found where bioenergy crops are grown, compared with areas supporting traditional agricultural crops.

A team of scientists, from the universities of Southampton, Surrey and California, analysed data from a variety of field-based studies to establish overall trends of biodiversity for different crop types. Originally starting with some 4,000 studies, they used a strict selection criteria to identify 21 to examine in more detail for this research.

Findings, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, showed that biodiversity increases 75 percent after land-use change from food-based agriculture to non-food bioenergy crops, with bird abundance increasing 81 percent and bird species richness rising 100 percent. Benefits were also found for insects, plants and soil biodiversity.

The study looked at non-food or dedicated bioenergy crops, including energy grasses of Miscanthus and switchgrass and short-rotation energy trees of willow and poplar. These bioenergy crops improved farm-scale biodiversity, compared to food-based agricultural land-use (managed grasslands or arable crops), for three main reasons: reduced management intensity, provision of features more similar to natural ecosystems, and increasing complexity or heterogeneity in the landscape.

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