Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-65dc7cd545-54nbv Total loading time: 0.208 Render date: 2021-07-25T07:49:07.731Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Bioenergy and Invasive Plants: Quantifying and Mitigating Future Risks

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Jacob N. Barney
Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061
E-mail address:
Rights & Permissions[Opens in a new window]


The United States is charging toward the largest expansion of agriculture in 10,000 years with vast acreages of primarily exotic perennial grasses planted for bioenergy that possess many traits that may confer invasiveness. Cautious integration of these crops into the bioeconomy must be accompanied by development of best management practices and regulation to mitigate the risk of invasion posed by this emerging industry. Here I review the current status of United States policy drivers for bioenergy, the status of federal and state regulation related to invasion mitigation, and survey the scant quantitative literature attempting to quantify the invasive potential of bioenergy crops. A wealth of weed risk assessments are available on exotic bioenergy crops, and generally show a high risk of invasion, but should only be a first-step in quantifying the risk of invasion. The most information exists for sterile giant miscanthus, with preliminary empirical studies and demographic models suggesting a relatively low risk of invasion. However, most important bioenergy crops are poorly studied in the context of invasion risk, which is not simply confined to the production field; but also occurs in crop selection, harvest and transport, and feedstock storage. Thus, I propose a nested-feedback risk assessment (NFRA) that considers the entire bioenergy supply chain and includes the broad components of weed risk assessment, species distribution models, and quantitative empirical studies. New information from the NFRA is continuously fed back into other components to further refine the risk assessment; for example, empirical dispersal kernels are utilized in landscape-level species distribution models, which inform habitat invasibility studies. Importantly, the NFRA results in a relative invasion risk to known species (e.g., is giant reed a higher or lower invasion risk than johnsongrass). This information is used to design robust mitigation plans that include record keeping, regular scouting and reporting, prudent harvest and transport practices that consider species biology, and eradication protocols as an ultimate precaution. Finally, a socio-political balance must be struck (i.e., a cost-benefit analysis) among our energy choices that consider the broader implications, which includes the risk of future invasions.

Research Article
Creative Commons
Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BY
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Copyright © Weed Science Society of America


Baker, HG (1965) Characteristics and modes of origin of weeds. Pages 147172 in Baker, HG, Stebbins, GL, eds. The genetics of Colonizing Species. New York Academic Google Scholar
Barney, JN (2012) Best Management Practices for Bioenergy Crops: Reducing the Invasion Risk. Blacksburg Virginia Cooperative Extension PPWS-8P Google Scholar
Barney, JN, DiTomaso, JM (2008) Nonnative species and bioenergy: are we cultivating the next invader? BioScience 58:6470 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barney, JN, DiTomaso, JM (2010a) Bioclimatic predictions of habitat suitability for the biofuel switchgrass in North America under current and future climate scenarios. Biomass Bioenerg 34:124133 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barney, JN, DiTomaso, JM (2010b) Invasive species biology, ecology, management, and risk assessment: Evaluating and mitigating the invasion risk of biofuel crops. Pages 263284 in Mascia, P, Scheffran, J, Thomas, S, Widholm, J, eds. Biotechnology in Agriculture and Forestry 66 Plant Biotechnology for Sustainable Production of Energy and Co-products. Berlin Springer-Verlag CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barney, JN, DiTomaso, JM (2011) Global climate niche estimates for bioenergy crops and invasive species of agronomic origin: potential problems and opportunities. PLoS ONE 6:e17222 DOI:17210.11371/journal.pone.0017222CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Barney, JN, Mann, JJ, Kyser, GB, Blumwald, E, Van Deynze, A, DiTomaso, JM (2009) Tolerance of switchgrass to extreme soil moisture stress: ecological implications. Plant Science 177:724732 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barney, JN, Mann, JJ, Kyser, GB, DiTomaso, JM (2012) Assessing habitat susceptibility and resistance to invasion by the bioenergy crops switchgrass and Miscanthus × giganteus in California. Biomass Bioenerg 40:143154 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barney, JN, Tekiela, D, Dollete, E, Tomasek, B (2013) What is the “real” impact of invasive plant species? Front Ecol Environ 11:322329 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barney, JN, Whitlow, TH (2008) A unifying framework for biological invasions: the state factor model. Biol Invasions 10:259272 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bell, GP (1997) Ecology and management of Arundo donax, and approaches to riparian habitat restoration in Southern California. Pages 103113 in Brock, JH, Wade, M, Pysek, P, Green, D, eds. Plant Invasions: Studies from North America and Europe. Leiden Blackhuys Google Scholar
Boland, JM (2006) The importance of layering in the rapid spread of Arundo donax (giant reed). Madrono 53:303312 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Buddenhagen, CE, Chimera, C, Clifford, P (2009) Assessing biofuel crop invasiveness: a case study. PLoS ONE 4, DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0005261CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bullock, JM, Shea, K, Skarpaas, O (2006) Measuring plant dispersal: an introduction to field methods and experimental design. Plant Ecol 186:217234 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clifton-Brown, J, Robson, P, Sanderson, R, Hastings, A, Valentine, J, Donnison, I (2011) Thermal requirements for seed germination in Miscanthus compared with switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinaceae), maize (Zea mays) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne). GCB Bioenergy 3:375386 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Davis, AS, Cousens, RD, Hill, J, Mack, RN, Simberloff, D, Raghu, S (2010) Screening bioenergy feedstock crops to mitigate invasion risk. Front Ecol Environ 8:533539 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Davis, MA, Grime, JP, Thompson, K (2000) Fluctuating resources in plant communities: a general theory of invasibility. J Ecol 88:528534 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Davis, P, Menalled, F, Peterson, R, Maxwell, B (2011) Refinement of weed risk assessments for biofuels using Camelina sativa as a model species. J Appl Ecol 48:989997 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
DiTomaso, JM (2000) Invasive weeds in rangelands: Species, impacts, and management. Weed Sci 48:255265 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
DiTomaso, JM, Barney, JN, Fox, A (2007) Biofuel feedstocks: the risk of future invasions. Council for Agricultural Science and Technology Commentary QTA 2007-1Google Scholar
DiTomaso, JM, Barney, JN, Mann, JJ, Kyser, GB (2013) Switchgrass has a low potential risk of invasiveness in California from biofuel cultivation. Cal Agric 67:96103 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
DiTomaso, JM, Reaser, JK, Dionigi, CP, Doering, OC, Chilton, E, Schardt, JD, Barney, JN (2010) Biofuel vs bioinvasion: seeding policy priorities. Environ Sci Technol 44:69066910 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Dougherty, RF, Quinn, L, Voigt, T, Barney, JN (2013) Naturalized biotypes of Miscanthus sinensis show greater tolerance to light and moisture stress than ornamental cultivars. Proc Weed Sci Soc Amer 53:6 Google Scholar
Drenovsky, RE, Grewell, BJ, D'Antonio, CM, Funk, JL, James, JJ, Molinari, N, Parker, IM, Richards, CL (2012) A functional trait perspective on plant invasion. Ann Bot 110:141153 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
[EISA] Energy Independence and Security Act. (2007) Public Law 110–140Google Scholar
Flory, S, Lorentz, KA, Gordon, DR, Sollenberger, LE (2012) Experimental approaches for evaluating the invasion risk of biofuel crops. Environmental Research Letters 7:045904 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Glaser, A, Glick, P (2012) Growing Risk: Addressing the Invasive Potential of Bioenergy Feedstocks. Washington, DC National Wildlife Federation. 56 pGoogle Scholar
Gordon, DR, Onderdonk, DA, Fox, AM, Stocker, RK (2008) Consistent accuracy of the Australian weed risk assessment system across varied geographies. Divers Distrib 14:234242 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gordon, DR, Tancig, KJ, Onderdonk, DA, Gantz, CA (2011) Assessing the invasive potential of biofuel species proposed for Florida and the United States using the Australian Weed Risk Assessment. Biomass Bioenerg 35:7479 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Graziani, A, Steinmaus, SJ (2009) Hydrothermal and thermal time models for the invasive grass, Arundo donax . Aq Bot 90:7884 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Harl, N (2010) Liability for the spread of weeds. Agricultural Law 11.02 Matthew Bender and Co Google Scholar
Horvitz, C, Schemske, D (1995) Spatiotemporal variation in demographic transitions of a tropical understory herb: projection matrix analysis. Ecol Monogr 65:155192 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hulme, PE (2012) Weed risk assessment: A way forward or a waste of time? J Appl Ecol 49:1019 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hulme, PE, Pyšek, P, Jarošík, V, Pergl, J, Schaffner, U, Vilà, M (2013) Bias and error in understanding plant invasion impacts. Trends Ecol Evol 28:212218 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jager, HI, Baskaran, LM, Brandt, CC, Davis, EB, Gunderson, CA, Wullschleger, SD (2010) Empirical geographic modeling of switchgrass yields in the United States. GCB Bioenergy 2:248257 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Keller, RP, Lodge, DM, Lewis, MA, Shogren, JF (2009) Bioeconomics of Invasive Species: Integrating Ecology, Economics, Policy, and Management. New York Oxford University Press. 298 p.Google Scholar
Koop, A, Fowler, L, Newton, L, Caton, B (2012) Development and validation of a weed screening tool for the United States. Biol Invasions 14:273294 Google Scholar
Lonsdale, W, FitzGibbon, F (2011) The known unknowns—managing the invasion risk from biofuels. Curr Opinion Environ Sustain 3:3135 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Low, T, Booth, C (2007) The Weedy Truth About Biofuels. Melbourne Invasive Species Council. 46 pGoogle Scholar
Mack, RN, Simberloff, D, Lonsdale, WM, Evans, H, Clout, M, Bazzaz, FA (2000) Biotic invasions: causes, epidemiology, global consequences, and control. Ecol Appl 10:689710 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mann, JJ, Barney, JN, Kyser, GB, DiTomaso, JM (2013a) Miscanthus × giganteus and Arundo donax shoot and rhizome tolerance of extreme moisture stress. GCB Bioenergy 5:693700 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mann, J. J., Kyser, G. B., DiTomaso, J. M., Barney, J. N. (2013b) Assessment of above and belowground vegetative fragments as propagules in the bioenergy crops Arundo donax and Miscanthus × giganteus . BioEnergy Res 6:688698 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Marchant, G, Abbott, L, Felsot, A, Griffin, R (2013) Impact of The Precautionary Principle on Feeding Current and Future Generations. CAST Issue Paper No. 52. Ames: Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. 20 pGoogle Scholar
Matlaga, D, Davis, AS (2013) Minimizing invasive potential of Miscanthus × giganteus grown for bioenergy: Identifying demographic thresholds for population growth and spread. J Appl Ecol. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12057CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Matlaga, D, Schutte, B, Davis, AS (2012) Age-dependent demographic rates of the bioenergy crop Miscanthus × giganteus in Illinois. Invasive Plant Sci Manage 5:238248 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCubbins, J, Endres, A, Quinn, L, Barney, JN (2013) Frayed seams in the “patchwork quilt” of American Federalism: An empirical analysis of invasive plant species regulation. Environmental Law 43:3581 Google Scholar
McNeely, J (2001) The Great Reshuffling: Human Dimensions of Invasive Alien Species. Cambridge IUCN. 243 pGoogle Scholar
Moles, AT, Gruber, MAM, Bonser, SP (2008) A new framework for predicting invasive plant species. J Ecol 96:1317 Google Scholar
Myers, JH, Simberloff, D, Kuris, AM, Carey, JR (2000) Eradication revisited: dealing with exotic species. Trends Ecol Evol 15:316320 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Nackley, LL, Lieu, VH, Garcia, BB, Richardson, JJ, Isaac, E, Spies, K, Rigdon, S, Schwartz, DT (2013) Bioenergy that supports ecological restoration. Front Ecol Environ 10:535540 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
[NRCS] Natural Resources Conservation Service (2011) Planting and managing giant miscanthus as a biomass energy crop. Washington, DC United States Department of Agriculture. 22 pGoogle Scholar
Nuñez, MA, Medley, KA (2011) Pine invasions: climate predicts invasion success; something else predicts failure. Divers Distrib 17:703713 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Parrish, DJ, Fike, JH (2005) The biology and agronomy of switchgrass for biofuels. Crit Rev Plant Sci 24:423459 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pattison, RR, Mack, RN (2008) Potential distribution of the invasive tree Triadica sebifera (Euphorbiaceae) in the United States: evaluating CLIMEX predictions with field trials. Global Change Biol 14:813826 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pearman, PB, Guisan, A, Broennimann, O, Randin, CF (2008) Niche dynamics in space and time. Trends Ecol Evol 23:149158 Google ScholarPubMed
Peterson, AT (2003) Predicting the geography of species' invasions via ecological niche modeling. Quart Rev Biol 78:419433 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Peterson, AT, Vieglais, DA (2001) Predicting species invasions using ecological niche modeling: new approaches from bioinformatics attack a pressing problem. BioScience 51:363371 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Petitpierre, B, Kueffer, C, Broennimann, O, Randin, C, Daehler, C, Guisan, A (2012) Climatic niche shifts are rare among terrestrial plant invaders. Science 335:13441348 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pheloung, PC, Williams, PA, Halloy, SR (1999) A weed risk assessment model for use as a biosecurity tool evaluating plant introductions. J Environ Manage 57:239251 Google Scholar
Phillips, SJ, Anderson, RP, Schapire, RE (2006) Maximum entropy modeling of species geographic distributions. Ecol Model 190:231259 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Quinn, L, Barney, JN, McCubbins, J, Endres, A (2013a) Navigating the “noxious” and “invasive” regulatory landscape: Suggestions for improved regulation. BioScience 63:124131 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Quinn, LD, Endres, AB, Voigt, TB (2013b) Why not harvest existing invaders for bioethanol? Biol Invasions. DOI: 10.1007/s10530-013-0591-zCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Quinn, L, Matlaga, D, Stewart, J, Davis, A (2011) Empirical evidence of long-distance dispersal in Miscanthus sinensis and Miscanthus × giganteus . Invasive Plant Sci Manage 4:142150 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Raghu, S, Anderson, RC, Daehler, CC, Davis, AS, Wiedenmann, RN, Simberloff, D, Mack, RN (2006) Adding biofuels to the invasive species fire? Science 313:1742 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Robertson, GP, Dale, VH, Doering, OC, Hamburg, SP, Melillo, JM, Wander, MM, Parton, WJ, Adler, PR, Barney, JN, Cruse, RM, Duke, CS, Fearnside, PM, Follett, RF, Gibbs, HK, Goldemberg, J, Mladenoff, DJ, Ojima, D, Palmer, MW, Sharpley, A, Wallace, L, Weathers, KC, Wiens, JA, Wilhelm, WW (2008) Sustainable biofuels redux. Science 322:4950 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rosenzweig, M (2001) The four questions: What does the introduction of exotic species do to diversity? Evol Ecol Res 3:361367 Google Scholar
Simberloff, D (2005) The politics of assessing risk for biological invasions: the USA as a case study. Trends Ecol Evol 20:216222 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Simberloff, D (2008) Invasion biologists and the biofuels boom: Cassandras or colleagues? Weed Sci 56:867872 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Smith, LL, Barney, JN (2012a) Invasive potential of bioenergy crops using the new APHIS assessment: How risky is renewable energy? Proc Northeastern Weed Sci Soc 66:48 Google Scholar
Smith, LL, Barney, JN (2012b) Where does fertile Miscanthus × giganteus fall on the invasive spectrum: Performance, establishment, and spread. Proc Ecol Soc Amer 97:50 Google Scholar
Smith, LL, Barney, JN (2014) The relative risk of invasion: Evaluation of Miscanthus × giganteus seed establishment. Invasive Plant Sci Manage 7:93106 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Theoharides, KA, Dukes, JS (2007) Plant invasion across space and time: factors affecting nonindigenous species success during four stages of invasion. New Phytol 176:256273 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Yokomizo, H, Possingham, HP, Hulme, PE, Grice, AC, Buckley, YM (2012) Cost-benefit analysis for intentional plant introductions under uncertainty. Biol Invasions 14:839849 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
You have Access
Open access
Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Bioenergy and Invasive Plants: Quantifying and Mitigating Future Risks
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Bioenergy and Invasive Plants: Quantifying and Mitigating Future Risks
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Bioenergy and Invasive Plants: Quantifying and Mitigating Future Risks
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *