Increasing corn for biofuel production reduces biocontrol services in agricultural landscapes

D.A. Landis, M.M. Gardiner, W. van der Werf, S.M. Swinton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

266 Citations (Scopus)


Increased demand for corn grain as an ethanol feedstock is altering U. S. agricultural landscapes and the ecosystem services they provide. From 2006 to 2007, corn acreage increased 19% nationally, resulting in reduced crop diversity in many areas. Biological control of insects is an ecosystem service that is strongly influenced by local landscape structure. Here, we estimate the value of natural biological control of the soybean aphid, a major pest in agricultural landscapes, and the economic impacts of reduced biocontrol caused by increased corn production in 4 U. S. states (Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin). For producers who use an integrated pest management strategy including insecticides as needed, natural suppression of soybean aphid in soybean is worth an average of $33 ha(-1). At 2007-2008 prices these services are worth at least $239 million y(-1) in these 4 states. Recent biofuel-driven growth in corn planting results in lower landscape diversity, altering the supply of aphid natural enemies to soybean fields and reducing biocontrol services by 24%. This loss of biocontrol services cost soybean producers in these states an estimated $58 million y(-1) in reduced yield and increased pesticide use. For producers who rely solely on biological control, the value of lost services is much greater. These findings from a single pest in 1 crop suggest that the value of biocontrol services to the U. S. economy may be underestimated. Furthermore, we suggest that development of cellulosic ethanol production processes that use a variety of feedstocks could foster increased diversity in agricultural landscapes and enhance arthropod-mediated ecosystem services.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20552-20557
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number25
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • soybean aphid
  • coccinellidae coleoptera
  • generalist predators
  • population-growth
  • pest-control
  • switchgrass
  • suppression
  • management
  • hemiptera
  • ethanol

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