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Modeling wildlife and other trade‐offs with biofuel crop production


Biofuels from agricultural sources are an important part of California's strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on foreign oil. Land conversion for agricultural and urban uses has already imperiled many animal species in the state. This study investigated the potential impacts on wildlife of shifts in agricultural activity to increase biomass production for transportation fuels. We applied knowledge of the suitability of California's agricultural landscapes for wildlife species to evaluate wildlife effects associated with plausible scenarios of expanded production of three potential biofuel crops (sugar beets, bermudagrass, and canola). We also generated alternative, spatially explicit scenarios that minimized loss of habitat for the same level of biofuel production. We explored trade-offs to compare the marginal changes per unit of energy for transportation costs, wildlife, land and water-use, and total energy produced, and found that all five factors were influenced by crop choice. Sugar beet scenarios require the least land area: 3.5 times less land per liter of gasoline equivalent than bermudagrass and five times less than canola. Canola scenarios had the largest impacts on wildlife but the greatest reduction in water use. Bermudagrass scenarios resulted in a slight overall improvement for wildlife over the current situation. Relatively minor redistribution of lands converted to biofuel crops could produce the same energy yield with much less impact on wildlife and very small increases in transportation costs. This framework provides a means to systematically evaluate potential wildlife impacts of alternative production scenarios and could be a useful complement to other frameworks that assess impacts on ecosystem services and greenhouse gas emissions. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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