The policy forum in this weeks issue of Science discusses a potential problem with many of the crops that people are talking about using as biofuels. In what has to be one of the more striking instances of cosmic irony, it is entirely possible that some of the plants being considered as biofuel crops might actually be bad for the environment.
The reason for this is actually relatively simple: many of the ecological traits that are found in the ideal biofuel crop are exactly the same as the ecological traits that are found in nasty invasive species.
|Ideal Biofuel Crop||Invasive Plants|
|C4 photosynthesis||C4 photosynthesis|
|Rapid spring growth||Rapid spring growth|
|No known pests/diseases||No known pests/diseases|
|Can reproduce asexually||Can reproduce asexually|
I should probably note at this point that a plant doesn’t need to have all the listed characteristics of a nasty invasive species to actually become a nasty invasive species. The more of those characteristics a plant has, the greater the chance that it might become an invasive species.
As the authors of the paper point out, this indicates that we’re going to need to be cautious about introducing biofuel crops, especially if we don’t want to trade in one set of problems for another.