Perennial grasslands enhance biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services in bioenergy landscapes

Ben P. Werling, Timothy L. Dickson, Rufus Isaacs, Hannah Gaines, Claudio Gratton, Katherine L. Gross, Heidi Liere, Carolyn M. Malmstrom, Timothy D. Meehan, Leilei Ruan, Bruce A. Robertson, G. Philip Robertson, Thomas M. Schmidt, Abbie C. Schrotenboer, Tracy K. Teal, Julianna K. Wilson, Douglas A. Landis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

353 Scopus citations


Agriculture is being challenged to provide food, and increasingly fuel, for an expanding global population. Producing bioenergy crops on marginal lands-farmland suboptimal for food crops- could help meet energy goals while minimizing competition with food production. However, the ecological costs and benefits of growing bioenergy feedstocks-primarily annual grain crops-on marginal lands have been questioned. Here we show that perennial bioenergy crops provide an alternative to annual grains that increases biodiversity of multiple taxa and sustain a variety of ecosystem functions, promoting the creation of multifunctional agricultural landscapes. We found that switchgrass and prairie plantings harbored significantly greater plant, methanotrophic bacteria, arthropod, and bird diversity than maize. Although biomass production was greater in maize, all other ecosystem services, including methane consumption, pest suppression, pollination, and conservation of grassland birds, were higher in perennial grasslands. Moreover, we found that the linkage between biodiversity and ecosystem services is dependent not only on the choice of bioenergy crop but also on its location relative to other habitats, with local landscape context as important as crop choice in determining provision of some services. Our study suggests that bioenergy policy that supports coordinated land use can diversify agricultural landscapes and sustain multiple critical ecosystem services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1652-1657
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 28 2014


  • Energy policy
  • Greenhouse gas mitigation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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