Planting biofuel crops on converted forestlands or other ecologically valuable lands has already become a hotly debated practice. Now, a new report co-authored by Nature Conservancy scientists says that biofuel crops could also become invasive species -- and that the risk needs to be evaluated before these crops are planted. The Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP) and Conservancy scientists have identified all the crops currently being used or considered for biofuel production and ranked them according to the risk they pose of becoming invasive species.

GISP calls on countries to:

  • Carry out risk assessments before they plant biofuel crops,
  • Use low-risk species of crops for biofuels, and
  • Introduce new controls to manage invasive species.

Major Findings of the Report

  • Damage from invasive species costs the world more than $1.4 trillion annually -- 5% of the global economy. The United States alone spends $120 billion annually on the control and impacts of more than 800 invasive species infestations.
  • The giant reed (Arundo donax) is a proposed biofuel crop from West Asia which is already invasive in parts of North and Central America. Naturally flammable, it increases the likelihood of wildfires -- a threat to both humans and native species in places such as California.
  • The African oil palm is another example of the havoc an invasive species can wreak. Recommended for biodiesel, it has already become invasive in parts of Brazil, turning areas of threatened forest from a rich mix of trees and plant life into a homogenous layer of palm leaves.
  • The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 9) represents the best chance in a decade to take global action against invasive species. The Conservancy and GISP are calling on delegates to recognize the dangers invasive species cause and recommend risk assessments before biofuel crops are planted. The two groups also call on the scientific community to conduct more desperately-needed research into this topic.

The Bottom Line

“Prevention is better than the cure,” says Stas Bugiel, The Nature Conservancy’s senior global invasive species policy advisor, “We need to stop invasions before they occur. The biofuel industry is a relatively new concept so we have a unique opportunity to act early and get ahead of the game -- we mustn’t throw that away.”