Diverse landscapes are better: Policymakers urged to think broadly about biofuel crops

December 15, 2008
A ladybird beetle, or ladybug. Credit: Kurt Stepnitz, Michigan State University

Diversity is valuable socially, economically and now environmentally. Research by Michigan State University scientists has found that growing more corn to produce ethanol – creating less diverse landscapes – reduces the ability of beneficial insects to control pests, a loss valued at about $58 million per year in the four states studied (Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin).

"Corn is a less favorable habitat for many ladybird beetles (ladybugs) and other beneficial insects that feed on pests such as the soybean aphid," said Doug Landis, MSU professor of entomology. "As we plant more corn, we reduce the ability of that landscape to supply beneficial predators to control pests in soybeans and other crops. This results in increased pesticide use and yield losses. This research estimates the value of this biological pest control service in soybeans (in the four states) to be about $240 million each year."

The research was published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

From 2006 to 2007, corn acreage increased by 19 percent in the United States, reducing landscape diversity in many areas, according to the scientists.

"Over-reliance on any one crop is likely to reduce the value of natural control of pest insects by beneficial insects," said Scott Swinton, MSU professor of agricultural, food and resource economics and paper co-author. "If we look at farmers who grow only corn and soybeans, increasing corn acreage and reducing soybean acreage will probably mean higher costs for soybean pest control. Beneficial insects help control pests so growers have lower pest control costs."

Both Landis and Swinton are members of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, a partnership between Michigan State and the University of Wisconsin-Madison funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct basic research aimed at solving complex problems in converting natural materials to energy.

The researchers say achieving the biofuel production levels mandated by Congress will take millions of acres to provide the necessary raw materials and will change agricultural landscapes. Understanding how these landscape changes affect the sustainability of biofuel production is the overall goal of the research.

"Ultimately, we hope this helps policymakers think about which and how much of any biofuel crop, as well as the location of the crop, makes sense for a particular landscape," Landis said. "We could choose to create monocultures of a single biofuel crop or have diverse mixtures of many biomass sources including perennial trees and grasses as well as corn. Diverse landscapes often support higher levels of vital ecosystems services such as pest suppression and pollination. Our goal is to provide information so people can make more informed decisions."

Source: Michigan State University

Explore further: Organic seed coating for alfalfa helps prevent some soilborne diseases

Related Stories

Drone used to drop beneficial bugs on corn crop

April 20, 2015

University of Queensland agricultural science student Michael Godfrey has developed a drone that spreads beneficial insects onto crops, potentially saving farmers time and money.

Beneficial insect virus gets boost as crop pest fighter

March 30, 2015

Common baking ingredients may offer a way to bolster the effectiveness of Cydia pomonella granulovirus (CpGV), a natural insect pathogen that's been commercially formulated to kill codling moth larvae, a pest of apple, pear, ...

Recommended for you

How bees naturally vaccinate their babies

July 31, 2015

When it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don't have a choice—they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how ...

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

Exoplanets 20/20: Looking back to the future

July 31, 2015

Geoff Marcy remembers the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Paul Butler remembers being dead tired. The two men had just made history: the first confirmation of a planet orbiting another star.

Earth flyby of 'space peanut' captured in new video

July 31, 2015

NASA scientists have used two giant, Earth-based radio telescopes to bounce radar signals off a passing asteroid and produce images of the peanut-shaped body as it approached close to Earth this past weekend.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.