Global Climate Niche Estimates for Bioenergy Crops and Invasive Species of Agronomic Origin: Potential Problems and Opportunities

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The global push towards a more biomass-based energy sector is ramping up efforts to adopt regionally appropriate high-yielding crops. As potential bioenergy crops are being moved around the world an assessment of the climatic suitability would be a prudent first step in identifying suitable areas of productivity and risk. Additionally, this assessment also provides a necessary step in evaluating the invasive potential of bioenergy crops, which present a possible negative externality to the bioeconomy. Therefore, we provide the first global climate niche assessment for the major graminaceous (9), herbaceous (3), and woody (4) bioenergy crops. Additionally, we contrast these with climate niche assessments for North American invasive species that were originally introduced for agronomic purposes as examples of well-intentioned introductions gone awry. With few exceptions (e.g., Saccharum officinarum, Pennisetum purpureum), the bioenergy crops exhibit broad climatic tolerance, which allows tremendous flexibility in choosing crops, especially in areas with high summer rainfall and long growing seasons (e.g., southeastern US, Amazon Basin, eastern Australia). Unsurprisingly, the invasive species of agronomic origin have very similar global climate niche profiles as the proposed bioenergy crops, also demonstrating broad climatic tolerance. The ecoregional evaluation of bioenergy crops and known invasive species demonstrates tremendous overlap at both high (EI≥30) and moderate (EI≥20) climate suitability. The southern and western US ecoregions support the greatest number of invasive species of agronomic origin, especially the Southeastern USA Plains, Mixed Woods Plains, and Mediterranean California. Many regions of the world have a suitable climate for several bioenergy crops allowing selection of agro-ecoregionally appropriate crops. This model knowingly ignores the complex biotic interactions and edaphic conditions, but provides a robust assessment of the climate niche, which is valuable for agronomists, crop developers, and regulators seeking to choose agro-ecoregionally appropriate crops while minimizing the risk of invasive species.