Invasive species

Article - May 2012

It was interesting to hear from Brazil this evening that the biofuels text was unbalanced and too negative about biofuels and that Jatropha, for example, is good for climate mitigation. It was also instructive to learn that there are no invasive alien species issues around biofuels. Considering that there a lot of scientific evidence points to some biofuels also being invasive species, it really made one wonder if some delegates realise that SBSTTA is actually a scientific body. Just some of the invasive alien species considered for biofuel include perennial grasses such as switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea), miscanthus (Miscanthus spp.), and giant reed (Arundo donax). Then there are trees such from the poplar family (Populus spp.), willows (Salix spp.) and eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp). In addition we have Jatropha (Jatropha curcas), African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), and moringa (Moringa oleifera). This is only a very short extract from a long list. A number of these species have already demonstrated their invasiveness in different regions. Some readily create an invasive monoculture that wipes out biodiversity. Others combine to create alien landscapes that superficially resemble simplified ecosystems.

We also heard from NGO Searice of the Philippines that algae ‘without a name’, destined for biofuel production, were going to be introduced in a marine sanctuary – an area of one million hectares close to the shore, a region regularly visited by dolphins and whales. The fact that these algae were apparently nameless caused Searice to wonder if they were actually a product of synthetic biology. Local communities successfully resisted the project, using the precautionary principle. However, these algae were also destined for release in other areas and we do not know what happened there.