Biofuels on the landscape: Is "land sharing" preferable to "land sparing"?

Kristina J. Anderson-Teixeira, Benjamin D. Duval, Stephen P. Long, Evan H. Delucia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Widespread land use changes, and ensuing effects on ecosystem services, are expected from expanding bioenergy production. Although most U.S. production of ethanol is from corn, it is envisaged that future ethanol production will also draw from cellulosic sources such as perennial grasses. In selecting optimal bioenergy crops, there is debate as to whether it is preferable from an environmental standpoint to cultivate bioenergy crops with high ecosystem services (a "land-sharing" strategy) or to grow crops with lower ecosystem services but higher yield, thereby requiring less land to meet bioenergy demand (a "land-sparing" strategy). Here, we develop a simple model to address this question. Assuming that bioenergy crops are competing with uncultivated land, our model calculates land requirements to meet a given bioenergy demand intensity based upon the yields of bioenergy crops. The model combines fractional land cover of each ecosystem type with its associated ecosystem services to determine whether land-sharing or land-sparing strategies maximize ecosystem services at the landscape level. We apply this model to a case in which climate protection through GHG regulation-an ecosystem's greenhouse gas value (GHGV)-is the ecosystem service of interest. Our results show that the relative advantages of land sparing and land sharing depend upon the type of ecosystem displaced by the bioenergy crop; as the GHGV of the unfarmed land increases, the preferable strategy shifts from land sharing to land sparing. Although it may be preferable to replace ecologically degraded land with high-GHGV, lower yielding bioenergy crops, average landscape GHGV will most often be maximized through highyielding bioenergy crops that leave more land for uncultivated, high-GHGV ecosystems. Although our case study focuses on GHGV, the same principles will be applicable to any ecosystem service whose value does not depend upon the spatial configuration of the landscape. Whenever bioenergy crops have substantially lower ecosystem services than the ecosystems with which they are competing for land, the most effective strategy for meeting bioenergy demand while maximizing ecosystem services on a landscape level is one of land sparing: focusing simultaneously on maximizing the yield of bioenergy crops while preserving or restoring natural ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2035-2048
Number of pages14
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • Bioenergy feedstocks
  • Biofuels
  • Biomass yield
  • Climate mitigation
  • Ecosystem services
  • Greenhouse gas value, GHGV
  • Land sharing vs
  • Land sparing
  • Land use
  • Sustainability
  • Trade-offs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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