Biodiversity experiments show that increases in plant diversity can lead to greater biomass production, and some researchers suggest that high diversity plantings should be used for bioenergy production. However, many methods used in past biodiversity experiments are impractical for bioenergy plantings. For example, biodiversity experiments often use intensive management such as hand weeding to maintain low diversity plantings and exclude unplanted species, but this would not be done for bioenergy plantings. Also, biodiversity experiments generally use high seeding densities that would be too expensive for bioenergy plantings. Here we report the effects of biodiversity on biomass production from two studies of more realistic bioenergy crop plantings in southern Michigan, USA. One study involved comparing production between switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) monocultures and species-rich prairie plantings on private farm fields that were managed similarly to bioenergy plantings. The other study was an experiment where switchgrass was planted in monoculture and in combination with increasingly species-rich native prairie mixtures. Overall, we found that bioenergy plantings with higher species richness did not produce more biomass than switchgrass monocultures. The lack of a positive relationship between planted species richness and production in our studies may be due to several factors. Non-planted species (weeds) were not removed from our studies and these non-planted species may have competed with planted species and also prevented realized species richness from equaling planted species richness. Also, we found that low seeding density of individual species limited the biomass production of these individual species. Production in future bioenergy plantings with high species richness may be increased by using a high density of inexpensive seed from switchgrass and other highly productive species, and future efforts to translate the results of biodiversity experiments to bioenergy plantings should consider the role of seeding density.
Dickson, Timothy L. and Gross, Katherine L., "Can the Results of Biodiversity-Ecosystem Productivity Studies Be Translated to Bioenergy Production?" (2015). Biology Faculty Publications. 73.
Funded by the University of Nebraska at Omaha Open Access Fund