Invasive Species: Another Reason to Worry about Biofuels

invasive vine species
A new report, entitled "A Risk Assessment of Invasive Alien Species Promoted for Biofuels," is calling on governments to carefully weigh the risks posed by biofuel crops that stand a chance of becoming invasive species against the perceived benefits. The report, authored by the Global Invasive Species Program (GISP), identifies all the crops being used or considered for future production and ranks them according to the likelihood of their becoming invasive.

According to GISP, the damage wrought by invasive species worldwide incurs yearly costs that top $1.4 trillion; the U.S. spends about $120 billion every year to control the populations of over 800 invasive species. Countries in Asia and Africa, in which so-called second generation biofuel crops are being introduced, lack the necessary resources to adequately contain invasive species.A plant like Arundo donax (the giant reed), which has been proposed as a potential biofuel crop, is already invasive in many regions of North and Central America. Not only it is naturally flammable, but it also consumes large quantities fo water -- roughly 2,000 liters per standing meter of growth. Or take oil palm, for example: The African species, which has been recommended for use as a source of biodiesel, has spread like wildfire in certain parts of Brazil -- turning diverse forest habitats into homogeneous fields of palms.

While the report isn't intended to discourage all biofuel production, it is meant to serve as a useful reference for policymakers and businesses considering their use. It lists the following as potential risk-mitigating strategies:

* Risk assessments - use of formal risk assessment protocols to evaluate the risk of invasion

* Benefit/cost analysis - presenting business plans that can show real benefits before funds are made available

* Selection of native/low-risk species - creation of incentives for the use of species that pose the lowest risk

* Risk management - includes monitoring and contingency planning, such as control measures when an outbreak occurs

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Image courtesy of furryscaly via flickr

See also: ::The Latest Threat to Tropical Rainforests is... More Trees, ::Biofuel Comparison Chart: The "Good," the Bad and the (Really Ugly)

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