Impact of bioenergy production on biodiversity in the USA

production of biomass

The increasing demand for biofuels will change how land in the southeast of the United States is used and managed, with major effects on regional biodiversity. Researchers from the Copernicus Institute have been working together with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and North Carolina State University to quantify these land use changes and their effects on regional biodiversity.

The use of biomass for energy and materials is considered an essential option for replacing fossil fuels and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. In the last decades, wood pellets have increasingly been used in power plants to reduce the use of coal. The majority of the wood pellets consumed in Europe are produced from forests in the southeast of the United States.

Land use and land management changes

The projected increase in demand for wood pellets is expected to result in land use and land management changes in this region. There are major concerns about the effect of these land use and land management changes on the biodiversity in this region. The impact on biodiversity depends on local characteristics such as climate and land use, and therefore varies across the region.

“In our research we quantify the impact of the land use and land management changes on biodiversity”, explains Dr Floor van der Hilst. “These impacts are the result of an increased pellet demand on the total species, and species richness of threatened and endangered species as well as specific taxonomic groups such as mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians.”

Projected total species richness index in the southeastern US for 2010.
Projected total species richness index in the southeastern US for 2010.

Appropriate mitigation measures

The research shows that both positive and negative impacts of pellet production on biodiversity occur depending on the location and also vary per taxonomic group. Van der Hilst: “Our results provide information that allows policymakers, industry and NGOs to focus on areas of concern and take appropriate mitigation measures to limit negative biodiversity impacts and promote positive impacts. The spatially explicit approach can be applied to different regions and drivers of land-use change, to show how projected demand for an internationally traded commodity may lead to impacts on land use and biodiversity in the procurement region.”


  • Duden, A.S., M.J. Rubino, N.M Tarr, P.A. Verweij, A.P.C. Faaij, F. van der Hilst. Impact of increased wood pellet demand on biodiversity in the southeastern US. GCB Bioenergy, Accepted
  • Duden, A. S., P. A. Verweij, H. M. Junginger, R. C. Abt, J. D. Henderson, V. H. Dale, K. L. Kline, D. Karssenberg, J. A. Verstegen, A. P. C. Faaij and F. van der Hilst (2017). Modeling the impacts of wood pellet demand on forest dynamics in southeastern United States. Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining Vol 11 (6).