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Keywords:

  • bioenergy;
  • biomass crops;
  • ecosystem services;
  • land-use change;
  • policy guidelines;
  • short-rotation coppice;
  • spatial scale dependency;
  • sustainability

Abstract

The urgency for mitigation actions in response to climate change has stimulated policy makers to encourage the rapid expansion of bioenergy, resulting in major land-use changes over short timescales. Despite the potential impacts on biodiversity and the environment, scientific concerns about large-scale bioenergy production have only recently been given adequate attention. Environmental standards or legislative provisions in the majority of countries are still lagging behind the rapid development of energy crops. Ranging from the field to the regional scale, this review (i) summarizes the current knowledge about the impact of biomass crops on biodiversity in temperate regions, (ii) identifies knowledge gaps and (iii) drafts guidelines for a sustainable biomass crop production with respect to biodiversity conservation. The majority of studies report positive effects on biodiversity at the field scale but impacts strongly depend on the management, age, size and heterogeneity of the biomass plantations. At the regional scale, significant uncertainties exist and there is a major concern that extensive commercial production could have negative effects on biodiversity, in particular in areas of high nature-conservation value. However, integration of biomass crops into agricultural landscapes could stimulate rural economy, thus counteracting negative impacts of farm abandonment or supporting restoration of degraded land, resulting in improved biodiversity values. Given the extent of landconversion necessary to reach the bioenergy targets, the spatial layout and distribution of biomass plantations will determine impacts. To ensure sustainable biomass crop production, biodiversity would therefore have to become an essential part of risk assessment measures in all those countries which have not yet committed to making it an obligatory part of strategic landscape planning. Integrated environmental and economic research is necessary to formulate standards that help support long-term economic and ecological sustainability of biomass production and avoid costly mistakes in our attempts to mitigate climate change.