How to stop biofuel crops becoming invasive

23 April 2009 | News story

Experts have come up with a series of tips for biofuel producers to stop biofuel crops becoming invasive species.

All introduced crops for biofuel production should be treated as suspect or potentially invasive until proven otherwise, according to the experts. Risk assessments should be carried out at the earliest stages of planning biofuel production, they add.

Production systems should be monitored for possible escapes and appropriate barriers should be used, such as fences, gullies or buffer zones of resistant plants to reduce chances of escapes and invasions.

Finally, the crops should be converted into the first stage of fuel on site if possible to remove the possibility of spreading invasions through seeds or other plant parts.

“We need alternatives to fossil fuels and the judicious development of a range of biofuel production systems is a logical way of addressing that need,” says Geoffrey Howard, IUCN’s expert on invasive species. “Biological invasions from the introduced species themselves, as well as from the production processes, are real risks to biodiversity and livelihoods. The risks can be reduced by following the recommendations we’ve set out.”

The recommendations, compiled by a workshop hosted by IUCN in Nairobi, Kenya, will be published as soon as they have been refined by industry and other invasive species experts.

The experts found that many characteristics of biofuel crops are shared by invasive species, such as fast growth, high productivity, adaptability to a range of soil and climatic conditions and resistance to pests and diseases.

“Existing standard food-crops that are used for biofuels have limited risk of becoming invasive,” says Nadine McCormick, of IUCN’s Energy, Ecosystems and Livelihoods Initiative. “But new plants that are being proposed to increase biofuel production often have higher risks of developing invasive tendencies.”

IUCN will develop a series of best practices and guidance for the avoidance of biological invasions. This will be discussed at a second workshop later in the year for eventual input to the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels principles.

For more information, please contact:

  • Geoffrey Howard, Species Programme, Invasive Species Coordination at IUCN
  • Nadine McCormick, Business and Biodiversity, Energy, Ecosystems and Livelihoods Initiative