Carbon Emission and Biodiversity Loss on Biofuel Plantations

In effort to lessen the consumption of fossil fuel, biofuel<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biofuels” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]> XE “biofuel” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> is considered to be a possible alternative. Although biofuels may reduce our dependence on foreign oil supplies and anthropogenic carbon<!–[if supportFields]> XE “carbon, C” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> emissions, the costs of agriculture<!–[if supportFields]> XE “agriculture” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> expansion may outweigh the benefits. Danielsen et al. (2008) examined the affect of replacing tropical forests with oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) plantations on overall carbon dioxide<!–[if supportFields]> XE “carbon dioxide, CO2″ <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]> XE “carbon dioxide (CO2),” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> (CO2) emissions and local biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biodiversity” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>. The researchers looked at plantations in Southeast Asia, where the majority of palm-oil is produced.—Amy Zug

The study considered various methods of deforestation<!–[if supportFields]> XE “deforestation” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, cleared by logging<!–[if supportFields]> XE “logging” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, burning, flooded peatland<!–[if supportFields]> XE “peatlands” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, and degraded Imperata cylindrica grassland<!–[if supportFields]> XE “grassland” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>. The compensation point of carbon<!–[if supportFields]> XE “carbon, C” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> lost through each method of land conversion to the annual amount of fossil-fuel carbon emission avoided by use of biofuel<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biofuels” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]> XE “biofuel” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> was estimated using data from previous studies. A meta-analysis was used to compare the biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biodiversity” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> between the plantations and the tropical forests. Data were collected directly from plantations and forests, and borrowed from previous studies.
Tropical forests contain considerably more carbon<!–[if supportFields]> XE “carbon, C” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> than fully-grown palm-oil plantations. It is estimated that destroyed forests via logging<!–[if supportFields]> XE “logging” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> release a net amount of 163 t/ha of stored carbon, whereas a palm-oil plantation can produce an annual average of 3.7 t/ha of crude palm-oil to replace fossil fuel emission. According to calculations, it would take approximately 75 years for the carbon emissions saved to compensate for the lost carbon from deforestation<!–[if supportFields]> XE “deforestation” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>. Forest conversion through burning releases more carbon, and hence the compensation time is estimated to be 93 years. Assuming a constant amount of carbon stored and released from peatland<!–[if supportFields]> XE “peatlands” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, conversion would have a compensation period of up to 692 years. However, the compensation period for degraded Imperata grassland<!–[if supportFields]> XE “grassland” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, which contains a small amount of carbon, would only be a decade. After this amount of time, the fully-grown palm-oil plantation stores more carbon than that contained in the grassland.
Species richness for vertebrates was consistently less than half on plantations than in natural habitats, and vertebrates present on plantations were dominated by a few species that had sufficiently adapted. Although few invertebrate species were found on plantations, the two areas did not differ significantly. A few species of ants, moths, and bees thrived on plantations. Nevertheless, these successful invertebrate communities were dominated by a few species. Flora present in natural forest<!–[if supportFields]> XE “forest” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> was completely absent from plantations with no signs of regeneration. Only pteridophytes, which seemed to thrive in early-successional areas such as roadsides, were consistently present on plantations and showed higher species richness than in forests.
Instead of supporting efforts to reduce fossil fuel emission, biofuel<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biofuels” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]> XE “biofuel” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> production will only accelerate biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biodiversity” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> loss and climate change. This particular study does not include emissions from aboveground peatland<!–[if supportFields]> XE “peatlands” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> biomass<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biomass” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> or of other greenhouse gas<!–[if supportFields]> XE “greenhouse gas (GHG)” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]> XE “greenhouse gas” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>es<!–[if supportFields]> XE “greenhouse gas, GHG” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, and therefore the estimated carbon<!–[if supportFields]> XE “carbon, C” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> difference between palm-oil plantations and natural forest<!–[if supportFields]> XE “forest” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> remains conservative. Other agricultural factors not considered, such as road building, air pollution, and soil<!–[if supportFields]> XE “soil” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> erosion<!–[if supportFields]> XE “erosion” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, will further distort the results.—Amy Zug
Danielsen, F. Beukema, H. Burgess, N<!–[if supportFields]> XE “nitrogen, N” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]> XE “nitrogen” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>. D., Parish F., Brühl, C<!–[if supportFields]> XE “carbon, C” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>. A., Donald, P. F., Murdiyarso, D., Phalan B., Reijnders, L., Struebig, M., Fitzherbert, E. B., 2008. Biofuel Plantations on Forested Lands: Double Jeopardy for Biodiversity and Climate. Conservation Biology 23, 348–358.

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