Picture the vibrant wildflowers and swaying grasses of prairies covering the Midwestern United States once again, teeming with wildlife and requiring very little management from people, yet providing a renewable energy sources.
Managing native grasslands for biofuel production provides more habitat for birds and other wildlife than growing corn for ethanol production. Not only do mixed species of grasslands provide superior habitat they may also be more efficient at producing energy than corn, soy, and other biofuel sources.
A recent study looked at bird populations in biofuel fields. The largest populations and greatest diversity of birds were found in a mixed-species grassland, nearly double the numbers found in corn fields, according to researchers at Michigan State University. Fields of switchgrass, a fast growing perennial often touted as a biomass energy powerhouse, had population levels in between the two extremes.
"Native perennial grasses might provide an opportunity to produce biomass in ways that are compatible with the conservation of biodiversity and important ecosystem services such as pest control," said Bruce Robertson, one of the researchers involved.