Willows and miscanthus ( a grass) are grown commercially in the UK for bioenergy. These are perennial crops remaining in the ground for long periods and require low inputs of fertiliser or pesticides. Rothamsted Research scientists examined the potential of these crops to enhance biodiversity at the landscape level.
Intensive farming of food crops for biofuel is controversial and results in well-documented negative impacts on farmland biodiversity, however, these dedicated biomass crops are very different to food crops that are grown on an annual basis with high inputs. With the differences in management of the perennial bioenergy crops and annual food crops, it was hypothesised that there may be opportunities for enhancement of biodiversity in intensively management arable farmland, but this had not been demonstrated at the landscape level.
The researchers used biodiversity datasets collected throughout the UK from commercial arable and biomass bioenergy crops and demonstrate for the first time that the biomass crops enhance farmland biodiversity at the landscape -level. The study is published 30th November in the journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy.
Dr Alison Haughton, Rothamsted Research scientist who led the study, said: “In order to inform planting strategies of crops that can contribute to energy security whilst conserving and enhancing biodiversity, we need to carry out landscape level studies and examine a range of biodiversity indicators in detail. This is exactly what we did in this study”.
“Our analyses have revealed that the perennial cropping systems support greater abundances of plants and invertebrates, and that the communities of these indicators of biodiversity are quite different to those found in the biodiversity-impoverished arable cropping systems. Our findings can inform landscape-scale planting strategies for a more resilient and sustainable agriculture”.
Prof Angela Karp, who leads the Cropping Carbon strategic programme of research supported by the BBSRC at Rothamsted, commented: “We often hear most about the negative impacts of some bioenergy systems but this is really not the case for all bioenergy crops.
When grown on land less suited to food crops, in integrated farming systems, perennial biomass crops like willow and miscanthus bring multiple environmental benefits that help offset some of the negative consequences of intensive food production. Multifunctional land use of this kind will be essential in meeting the diverse needs of the UK bioeconomy”.
Publication: Dedicated biomass crops can enhance biodiversity in the arable landscape, Global Change Biology Bioenergy: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcbb.12312/full