October 2, 2009

Native grasses as biofuel aids wildlife

Using prairie plants to produce bio-energy would help bird populations threatened by the conversion of grasslands to corn, scientists in Michigan said.

There are ways to grow biofuel that are more benign, David Flaspohler, an environmental scientist at Michigan Tech, said in the journal BioScience.

The demand for ethanol from corn is converting land on a scale not seen since virgin prairies were plowed and huge swaths of the nation's forests were first cut to grow food crops, Flaspohler said in a release Friday.

Growing native perennials, such as switchgrass and big bluestem, would control erosion, maintain insect diversity and feed birds that help pollinate nearby crops, said Joseph Fargione, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy's North America Region.

Using native prairie plants as bio-energy crops would produce a lower yield per acre than corn, but maintain important ecosystems, such as soil fertility, water quality and wildlife habitat, Flaspohler said.