Biofuel feedstocks are being selected, bred, and engineered from nonnative taxa to have few resident pests, to tolerate poor growing conditions, and to produce highly competitive monospecific stands—traits that typify much of our invasive flora. We used a weed risk-assessment protocol, which categorizes the risk of becoming invasive on the basis of biogeography, history, biology, and ecology, to qualify the potential invasiveness of three leading biofuel candidate crops—switchgrass, giant reed, and miscanthus (a sterile hybrid)—under various assumptions. Switchgrass was found to have a high invasive potential in California, unless sterility is introduced; giant reed has a high invasive potential in Florida, where large plantations are proposed; miscanthus poses little threat of escape in the United States. Each biofuel crop shares many characteristics with established invasive weeds with a similar life history. We propose genotype-specific preintroduction screening for a target region, which consists of risk analysis, climate-matching modeling, and ecological studies of fitness responses to various environmental scenarios. This screening procedure will provide reasonable assurance that economically beneficial biofuel crops will pose a minimal risk of damaging native and managed environs.
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Vol. 58 • No. 1