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Title: Landscape patterns of bioenergy in a changing climate: implications for crop allocation and land-use competition

Author: Graves, Rose A.; Pearson, Scott M.; Turner, Monica G.;

Date: 2016

Source: Ecological Applications

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)


Rural landscapes face changing climate, shifting development pressure, and loss of agricultural land. Perennial bioenergy crops grown on existing agricultural land may provide an opportunity to conserve rural landscapes while addressing increased demand for biofuels. However, increased bioenergy production and changing land use raise concerns for tradeoffs within the food–energy–environment trilemma. Heterogeneity of climate, soils, and land use complicate assessment of bioenergy potential in complex landscapes, creating challenges to evaluating future tradeoffs. The hypothesis addressed herein is that perennial bioenergy production can provide an opportunity to avoid agricultural land conversion to development. Using a process-based crop model, we assessed potential bioenergy crop growth through 2100 in a southern Appalachian Mountain region and asked: (1) how mean annual yield differed among three crops (switchgrass Panicum virgatum, giant miscanthus Miscanthus × giganteus, and hybrid poplar Populus × sp.) under current climate and climate change scenarios resulting from moderate and very high greenhouse gas emissions; (2) how maximum landscape yield, spatial allocation of crops, and bioenergy hotspots (areas with highest potential yield) varied among climate scenarios; and (3) how bioenergy hotspots overlapped with current crop production or lands with high development pressure. Under both climate change scenarios, mean annual yield of perennial grasses decreased (−4% to −39%), but yield of hybrid poplar increased (+8% to +20%) which suggests that a switch to woody crops would maximize bioenergy crop production. In total, maximum landscape yield increased by up to 90 000 Mg/yr (6%) in the 21st century due to increased poplar production. Bioenergy hotspots (>18 Mg·ha−1·yr−1) consistently overlapped with high suburban/exurban development likelihood and existing row crop production. If bioenergy production is constrained to marginal (non-crop) lands, landscape yield decreased by 27%. The removal of lands with high development probability from crop production resulted in losses of up to 670 000 Mg/yr (40%). This study demonstrated that tradeoffs among bioenergy production, crop production, and exurban expansion in a mountainous changing rural landscape vary spatially with climate change over time. If markets develop, bioenergy crops could potentially counter losses of agricultural land to development.

Keywords: Appalachian Mountain region, biomass, climate change, giant miscanthus, hybrid poplar, land use, Miscanthus x giganteus, panicum virgatum, populus, switchgrass

Publication Notes:

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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.



Graves, Rose A.; Pearson, Scott M.; Turner, Monica G. 2016. Landscape patterns of bioenergy in a changing climate: implications for crop allocation and land-use competition. Ecological Applications, Vol. 26(2): 15 pages.: 515-529.   10.1890/15-0545


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