Diverse Landscapes are better

ResearchBlogging.orgPNAS recently published a really interesting paper that estimated what the cost was, in terms of ecosystem services, of planting all that corn for ethanol production. Basically, when you plant just one crop, you reduce the amount natural control of pest insects by beneficial insects.

I’ve mentioned corn and ethanol before here–the change in the US landscape is dramatic, and will continue, unless legislation is changed.  We are threatened by what one writer calls “The Corn-Ethanol Juggernaut”–in order to meet Congressionally mandated production goals, we must plant more corn.  8 BILLION gallons of ethanol are to be in use by 2012.  This paper quantifies some of what that will cost us.  From the abstract:

“Increased demand for corn grain as an ethanol feedstock is altering U.S. agricultural landscapes and the ecosystem services they provide. From 2006 to 2007, corn acreage increased 19% nationally, resulting in reduced crop diversity in many areas.

Biological control of insects is an ecosystem service that is strongly influenced by local landscape structure. Here, we estimate the value of natural biological control of the soybean aphid, a major pest in agricultural landscapes, and the economic impacts of reduced biocontrol caused by increased corn production in 4 U.S. states (Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin)……
Recent biofuel-driven growth in corn planting results in lower landscape diversity, altering the supply of aphid natural enemies to soybean fields and reducing biocontrol services by 24%.

This loss of biocontrol services cost soybean producers in these states an estimated $58 million y−1 in reduced yield and increased pesticide use. For producers who rely solely on biological control, the value of lost services is much greater. These findings from a single pest in 1 crop suggest that the value of biocontrol services to the U.S. economy may be underestimated.”

So, more pesticides, less profit for the farmer. Not good.  Is congress likely to repeal or change the ethanol mandate? Um. Probably not, alas.

Full Citation:
D. A. Landis, M. M. Gardiner, W. van der Werf, S. M. Swinton (2008). Increasing corn for biofuel production reduces biocontrol services in agricultural landscapes Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105 (51), 20552-20557 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0804951106


Around this time of year, I like to remind people about food, and privilege, and not taking things for granted. And right on time…. I stumbled across this fascinating student blog!

It’s a “personal sustainability project:”

“As part of my Contemporary Issues Class at CCA, I am taking on a Personal Sustainability Project. My PSP will focus on living a more sustainable diet through raising my own “minilivestock” by rearing, harvesting, and incorporating insects in my own daily diet. In addition to my PSP, I will use design to help further the voice of an existing organization or create my own.”

It clearly was a huge undertaking, since she reared her own mealworms. Drop by her blog and give Rosanna props for spreading the good news of insect food!

Her project has additional significance in light of the recent PNAS paper that found that corn is the basis of almost all fast food consumed in the US:

“Eating a diet of meat from corn-fed animals hasn’t been linked to any specific health effects in humans. But it has resulted in widespread environmental degradation, including drained water supplies, degraded soils, and reliance on fossil fuels for fertilizer, pesticides and farm machinery fuel, says preventive medicine physician Bob Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health…”

He left out “fuel to haul the corn back and forth.”

If you want to start your own low-impact diet, then check out the Food Insects Page list of insect cookbooks!  I’ll also point out that insects have lots of protein.

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