Impacts of Biofuel Expansion in Biodiversity Hotspots

  • Janice S. H. Lee
  • John Garcia-Ulloa
  • Lian Pin Koh


The finitude of fossil fuels, concerns for energy security, and the need to respond to climate change has led to growing worldwide interests in biofuels. However, a significant proportion of conventional biofuel feedstocks is produced in the tropics, notably oil palm in Southeast Asia, and soy and sugarcane in Brazil. This is a worrying trend for many tropical biologists, because it is also within the tropics where the majority of the world’s biodiversity hotspots are located (Myers et al. 2000). For at least the next decade, first generation biofuels will still be in demand. In biodiversity hotspots, where a myriad of anthropogenic factors are already driving intense land use conflicts, biofuel production will pose an additional challenge to the preservation of the remaining natural habitats. Here we address the following questions: How does biofuel expansion threaten biodiversity hotspots? How can we reconcile biofuel expansion with biodiversity conservation in these hotspots?


Biofuel Feedstock Generation Biofuel Butterfly Species Richness Worldwatch Institute High Conservation Value 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Angelsen A, Kaimowitz D (1999) Rethinking the causes of deforestation: lessons from economic models. The World Bank Research Observer 14:73–98PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Armbruster WJ, Coyle WT (2006) Pacific food system outlook 2006–2007: the future role of biofuels. Pacific Economic Cooperation Council, Singapore.
  3. Azevedo DA, Gerchon E, Reis EO (2004) Monitoring of pesticides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in water from Paraíba do Sul River, Brazil. J Braz Chem Soc 15:292–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barlow J, Gardner TA, Araujo IS, vila-Pires TCA, Bonaldo AB, Costa JE, Esposito MC, Ferreira LV, Hawes J, Hernandez MIM, Hoogmoed MS, Leite RN, Lo-Man-Hung NF, Malcolm JR, Martins MB, Mestre LAM, Miranda-Santos R, Nunes-Gutjahr AL, Overal WL, Parry L, Peters SL, Ribeiro-Junior MA, da Silva MNF, da Silva MC, Peres CA (2007) Quantifying the biodiversity value of tropical primary, secondary, and plantation forests. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:18555–18560PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barton DN, Faith DP, Rusch GM, Acevedo H, Paniagua L, Castro M (2009) Environmental service payments: evaluating biodiversity conservation trade-offs and cost efficiency in Osa Conservation Area, Costa Rica. J Environ Manage 90:901–911PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Basri MW, Norman K, Hamdan AB (1995) Natural enemies of the bagworm, Metisa plana Walker (Lepidoptera: Psychidae) and their impact on host population regulation. Crop Protect 14:637–645CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baylis K, Peplow S, Rausser G, Simon L (2008) Agri-environmental policies in the EU and United States: a comparison. Ecol Econ 65:753–764CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Butler RA, Koh LP, Ghazoul J (2009) REDD in the red: palm oil could undermine carbon payment schemes. Conserv Lett 2:67–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carvalho CEV, Ovalle ARC, Rezende CE, Molisani MM, Salomão MB, Lacerda LD (1999) Seasonal variation of particulate heavy metals in the Lower Paraiba do Dul River, RJ, Brazil. Environ Geol 37:297–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Casson A (2000) The hesitant boom: IndonesiaÕs oil palm sub-sector in an era of economic crisis and political change, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Bogor, IndonesiaGoogle Scholar
  11. Casson A (2003) Oil palm, soybeans and critical habitat loss. WWF Forest Conservation Initiative, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  12. Casson A, Tacconi L, Deddy K (2007) Strategies to reduce carbon emissions from the oil palm sector in Indonesia. Paper prepared for the Indonesian Forest Climate Alliance, Jakarta, IndonesiaGoogle Scholar
  13. Conservation International (2010) Biodiversity Hotspots.
  14. Constanza R, d’ Arge R, Rd G, Farber S, Grasso M, Hannon B, Limbirg K, Naeem S, O'Neill RV, Paruelo J, Raskin RG, Sutton P, Mvd B (1997) The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature 387:253–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Corbi JJ, Strixino ST, Santos A, Del Grande M (2006) Diagnóstico ambietal de metais e organoclorados em córregos adjacentes a áreas de cultivo de cana-de-açúcar (Estado de São Paulo, Brasil). Química Nova 29:61–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Corley RHV, Tinker PB (2003) The oil palm, 4th edn. Blackwell, Oxford, UKCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cotula L, Dyer N, Vermeulen S (2008) Fuelling exclusion? The biofuels boom and poor people’s access to land. International Institute for Environment and Development, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, LondonGoogle Scholar
  18. Danielsen F, Beukema H, Burgess ND, Parish F, Bruhl CA, Donald PF, Murdiyarso D, Phalan B, Reijnders L, Struebig M, Fitzherbert EB (2009) Biofuel plantations on forested lands: double Jeopardy for biodiversity and climate. Conserv Biol 23:348–358PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. de Oliveira JCM, Reichardt K, Bacchi OOS, Timm LC, Dourdo-Neto D, Trivelin PCO, Tominaga TT, Navarro RC, Piccolo MC, Cássaro FAM (2000) Nitrogen dynamics in a soil-sugar cane system. Sci Agri 57:467–472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dennis RA, Mayer J, Applegate G, Chokkalingam U, Pierce CJ, Kurniawan I, Lachowski H, Maus P, Permana RP, Ruchiat Y, Stolle F, Suyanto TTP (2005) Fire, people and pixels: linking social science and remote sensing to understand underlying causes and impacts of fires in Indonesia. Hum Ecol 33:465–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Donald PF (2004) Biodiversity impacts of some agricultural commodity production systems. Conserv Biol 18:17–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Doornbosch R, Steenblik R (2007) Biofuels: is the cure worse than the disease? In: Round table on sustainable development. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), ParisGoogle Scholar
  23. Dourdo-Neto D, Timm LC, Oliveira JCM, Reichardt K, Bacchi OOS, Tominaga TT, Cássaro FAM (1999) State-space approach for the analysis of soil water content and temperature in a sugarcane crop. Sci Agri 56:1215–1221Google Scholar
  24. Dunn RR (2004) Managing the tropical landscape: a comparison of the effects of logging and forest conversion to agriculture on ants, birds, and lepidoptera. Forest Ecol Manage 191:215–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. EIA-DOE (2010) Official energy statistics from the US government: petroleum international data. Energy information administration (EIA)-US Department of Energy (DOE).
  26. European Commission (2003) Global land cover 2000 database.
  27. Eva HD, de Miranda EE, Di Bella CM, Gond V, Huber O, Sgrenzaroli M, Jones S, Coutinho A, Dorado A, Guimarães M, Elvidge C, Achard F, Belward AS, Bartholomé E, Baraldi A, Grandi GD, Vogt P, Fritz S, Hartley A (2002) A vegetation map of South America, EUR 20159. European Commision, LuxembourgGoogle Scholar
  28. Fairhurst T, McLaughlin D (2009) Sustainable oil palm development on degraded land in Kalimantan. World Wildlife Fund for NatureGoogle Scholar
  29. FAO (2010) FAOSTAT-Agriculture. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
  30. Fearnside PM (2001) Soybean cultivation as a threat to the environment in Brazil. Environ Conserv 28:23–38Google Scholar
  31. Fearnside PM, Ferraz J (1995) A conservation gap analysis of Brazil’s Amazonian vegetation. Conserv Biol 9:1134–1147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Filoso S, Martinelli LA, Williams MR, Lara LB, Krusche A, Ballester MV, Victoria RL, Camargo PB (2003) Land use and nitrogen export in the Piracicaba River Basin, Southeast Brazil. Biogeochemistry 65:275–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Fischer G, Shah M, Velthuizen Hv, Nachtergaele FO (2002) Global agro-ecological assessment for agriculture in the 21st century.
  34. Fischer J (2009) A fair deal for forest people: working to ensure that REDD forests bear fruit for local communities. Mongabay (November 27, 2009)
  35. Fischer J, Brosi B, Daily GC, Ehrlich PR, Goldman R, Goldstein J, Lindenmayer DB, Manning AD, Mooney HA, Pejchar L, Ranganathan J, Tallis H (2008) Should agricultural policies encourage land sparing or wild-life friendly farming? Front Ecol Environ 6:380–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Fitzherbert EB, Struebig MJ, Morel A, Danielsen F, Brühl CA, Donald PF, Phalan B (2008) How will oil palm expansion affect biodiversity? Trends Ecol Evol 23:538–545PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Fredericksen TS, Putz FE (2003) Silvicultural intensification for tropical forest conservation. Biodivers Conserv 12:1445–1453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Fulton L, Howes T, Hardy J (2004) Biofuels for transport: an International perspective. International Energy Agency, Paris, France.
  39. Ghazoul J, Koh LP, Butler RA (2010a) A REDD light for wildlife friendly farming. Conserv Biol 24:644–645PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ghazoul J, Butler RA, Mateo-Vega J, Koh LP (2010b) REDD: a reckoning of environment and development implications. Trends Ecol Evol 25:396–402PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gibbs HK, Johnston M, Foley JA, Holloway T, Monfreda C, Ramankutty N, Zaks D (2008) Carbon payback times for crop-based biofuel expansion in the tropics: the effects of changing yield and technology. Environ Res Lett 3:1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Goldemberg J (2007) Ethanol for a sustainable energy future. Science 315:808–810PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Goldemberg J, Johansson TB (2004) World energy assessment overview: 2004 Update. United Nations Development Programme, New York, USA.
  44. Guyon A, Simorangkir D (2002) The economics of fire use in agriculture and forestry: a preliminary review for Indonesia. Project Fire Fight South-East Asia, Jakarta, IndonesiaGoogle Scholar
  45. Hartemink AE (2006) Soil erosion: perennial crop plantations. In: Encyclopedia of soil science. Taylor & FrancisGoogle Scholar
  46. IATP (2008) Biofuel and global biodiversity. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis, MNGoogle Scholar
  47. Igari AT, Tambosi LR, Pivello VR (2009) Agribusiness opportunity costs and environmental legal protection: investigating trade-off on hotspot preservation in the State of São Paulo, Brazil. Environ Manage 44:346–355PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Koh LP (2007) Potential habitat and biodiversity losses from intensified biodiesel feedstock production. Conserv Biol 21:1373–1375PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Koh LP (2008a) Can oil palm plantations be made more hospitable for forest butterflies and birds? J Appl Ecol 45:1002–1009CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Koh LP (2008b) Birds defend oil palms from herbivorous insects. Ecol Appl 18:821–825PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Koh LP (2009) Calling Indonesia’s US$13 billion bluff. Conserv Biol 23:789PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Koh LP, Ghazoul J (2008) Biofuels, biodiversity and people. Biol Conserv 141:2450–2460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Koh LP, Wilcove DS (2007) Cashing in palm oil for conservation. Nature 448:993–994PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Koh LP, Wilcove DS (2008) Is oil palm agriculture really destroying tropical biodiversity? Conserv Lett 1:60–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Koh LP, Wilcove DS (2009) Oil palm: disinformation enables deforestation. Trends Ecol Evol 24:67–68PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Koh LP, Butler RA, Bradshaw CJA (2009a) Conversion of Indonesia’s peatlands. Frontiers Ecol Environ 7:238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Koh LP, Levang P, Ghazoul J (2009b) Designer landscapes for sustainable biofuels. Trends Ecol Evol 24:431–438PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Koh LP, Tan HTW, Sodhi NS (2008) Biofuels: waste not want not. Science 320:1419PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Lapola DM, Schaldach R, Alcamo J, Bondeau A, Koch J, Koelking C, Priess JA (2010) Indirect land-use changes can overcome carbon savings from biofuels in Brazil. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 107:3388–3393Google Scholar
  60. Lara LL, Artaxo P, Martinelli LA, Camargo PB, Victoria RL, Ferraz ESB (2005) Properties of aerosols from sugar-cane burning emissions in Southeastern Brazil. Atmos Environ 39:4627–4637CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Laurance WF, Koh LP, Butler RA, Sodhi NS, Bradshaw CJA, Neidel JD, Consunji H, Mateo-Vega J (2010) Improving the performance of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil for nature conservation. Conserv Biol 24:377–381PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Li H, Aide TM, Ma Y, Liu W, Cao M (2007) Demand for rubber is causing the loss of high diversity rain forest in SW China. Biodivers Conserv 16:1737–1745CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Liu P, Andersen M, Pazderka C (2004) Voluntary standards and certification for environmentally and socially responsible agricultural production and trade, Report No 5. Food Agricultural Oorganisation of the United Nations, RomeGoogle Scholar
  64. Maddox T, Priatna D, Gemita E, Salampessy A (2007) The conservation of tigers and other wildlife in oil palm plantations. Jambi Province, Sumatra, Indonesia (October 2007). ZSL Conservation Report No. 7. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL), LondonGoogle Scholar
  65. Martinelli LA, Filoso S (2008) Expansion of sugarcane ethanol production in Brazil: environmental and social challenges. Ecol Appl 18:885–898PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Melillo JM, Gurgel AC, Kicklighter DW, Reilly JM, Cronin TW, Felzer BS, Paltsev S, Schlosser CA, Sokolov AP, Wang X (2009) Unintended environmental consequences of a global biofuels program. MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global ChangeGoogle Scholar
  67. Mittermeier RA (2004) Hotspots revisited. Cemex, Conservation International and Agrupacion Sierra Madre, Monterrey, MexicoGoogle Scholar
  68. Muñoz-Pina C, Guevara A, Torres JM, Braña J (2008) Paying for the hydrological services of Mexico’s forests: analysis, negotiations and results. Ecol Econ 65:725–736CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Murray D (2005) Ethanol’s potential: looking beyond Corn. Earth Policy Institute, Washington DC, USA.
  70. Myers N, Mittermeier RA, Mittermeier CG, GABd F, Kent J (2000) Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403:853–858PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. OECD-FAO (2008) Agricultural outlook 2008–2017. In: Organisation for economic co-operation and development (OECD), ParisGoogle Scholar
  72. Pickett J, Anderson D, Bowles D, Bridgewater T, Jarvis P, Mortimer N, Poliakoff M, Woods J (2008) Sustainable biofuels: prospects and challenges. The Royal Society, London, UK.
  73. Rist L, Lee JSH, Koh LP (2009) Biofuels: social benefits. Science 326:1344PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Schneider R, Arima E, Verissimo A, Junior CS, Barreto P (2000) Sustainable Amazon: Limitations and opportunities for rural development. World Bank Technical Paper no. 515, Washington DC, USAGoogle Scholar
  75. Sheil D, Casson A, Meijaard E, Mv N, Gaskell J, Sunderland-Groves J, Wertz K, Kanninen M (2009) The impacts and opportunities of oil palm in Southeast Asia: what do we know and what do we need to know? Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Bogor, IndonesiaGoogle Scholar
  76. Shi AZ, Koh LP, Tan HTW (2009) The biofuel potential of municipal solid waste. Glob Change Biol 1:317–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Skole D, Chometowski W, Salas W, Nobre A (1994) Physical and human dimensions of deforestation in mazonia. Bioscience 44:314–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Sparovek G, Schnug E (2001) Temporal erosion-induced soil degradation and yield loss. Soil Sci Soc Am J 65:1479–1486CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Sto E, Standbacken P, Scheer D, Rubik F (2005) Background: theoretical contributions, eco-labels and environmental policy. In: Rubik F, Frankl P (eds) The future of eco-labeling: making environmental product information systems effective. Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, pp 16–45Google Scholar
  80. Tacconi L (2003) Fires in Indonesia: causes, costs and policy implications. CIFOR Occasional Paper No. 38. Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor, IndonesiaGoogle Scholar
  81. Tengnäs B, Nilsson B (2003) Soybean: where is it from and what are its uses? World Wildlife Fund SwedenGoogle Scholar
  82. Tomei J, Upham P (2009) Argentinean soy based biodiesel: an introduction to production and impacts. Tyndall Working Paper 132, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, UKGoogle Scholar
  83. Tominaga TT, Cássaro FAM, Bacchi OOS, Reichardt K, Oliveira JC, Timm LC (2002) Variability of soil water content and bulk density in a sugarcane field. Aust J Soil Res 40:605–614CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. UNEP (2009) Assessing biofuels. United Nations Environment Programme, United NationsGoogle Scholar
  85. USDA (2006) USDA Land retirement programs. In: Agricultural resources and environmental indicators. Economic Research Service, USA.
  86. Wilcove DS, Koh LP (2010) Addressing the threats to biodiversity from oil palm agriculture. Biodivers Conserv 19:999–1007CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Worldwatch Institute (2007) Biofuels for transport: global potential and implications for energy and agriculture. Earthscan, London Sterling VA USAGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janice S. H. Lee
    • 1
  • John Garcia-Ulloa
    • 1
  • Lian Pin Koh
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Terrestrial EcosystemsETH ZürichZürichSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations