University of Cambridge > > Plant Sciences Departmental Seminars > Effects of sugarcane on the Cerrado biodiversity: land use change, habitat loss and greenhouse gas emissions

Effects of sugarcane on the Cerrado biodiversity: land use change, habitat loss and greenhouse gas emissions

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The Brazilian Cerrado, the richest savannah system in the Neotropics, is currently threatened by agricultural expansion. In particular, sugarcane-based bioethanol production is spreading through this region. Half of the Cerrado (equivalent to 25% of European land area) has been converted in the last 40 years. I have studied the main factors that determine species distribution and diversity in the remaining natural areas, as well as the consequences of the recent land use changes. Species distribution models were developed for 50 woody species, using datasets not currently available in global databases. I found that soil type and soil water content had the strongest effect on the occurrence and diversity, alongside climatic variables such as temperature and seasonality of precipitation. I found that cane fields have little impact on the range of the species studied, many of which are wide ranging, but the combined effect of land-use change has resulted in losses of up to 70% of the range. I also studied rates of nitrous oxide – a potent greenhouse gas – emission from sugarcane fields and found that emissions can be more than three orders of magnitudes higher in the cane fields than in the native savannahs, but varies greatly depending on how the cane fields are managed. The research indicates that zoning and management of sugarcane fields are crucial to achieving sustainable ethanol production whilst reducing the loss of Cerrado biodiversity.

Key-words: Cerrado, land use change, nitrous oxide, species distribution modelling, sugarcane.

This talk is part of the Plant Sciences Departmental Seminars series.

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