Smith Fellows
Smith Fellow


The United States’ evolving energy policies have dramatic “ripple effects” across biodiverse tropical ecosystems. The U.S. demand for liquid biofuels greatly increased with the new “Twenty in Ten” goal of reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent in the next decade. However, the U.S. and other industrialized nations with ambitious plans to reduce fossil emissions may not have the domestic capacity to increase production, and are spurring market expansion in the tropics by creating high commodity prices for biofuel feedstocks. Without thoughtful planning this biofuels boom may spur a new kind of agricultural revolution – one that imperils biodiverse ecosystems, increases greenhouse gas emissions, and undermines food security by driving up prices and monopolizing prime farmland.

I aim to improve our understanding of the impacts of heightened U.S. biofuel demand on tropical ecosystems and net carbon emissions by documenting and quantifying the extent, locations and pathways of biofuel crop expansion today and in the future. In particular, I will use detailed ground-based and remote sensing analyses to map the tropical land sources for newly expanding biofuel crops being imported to the U.S. I will also work closely with policy-makers in the U.S. and across the developing world to develop potential biofuel expansion scenarios using global land-use models to map and evaluate the implications for tropical conservation. These scenarios will help demonstrate the impacts of proposed energy policies including what could be achieved by prioritizing conservation. The results will be used to inform U.S. energy and climate policy standards, make recommendations to the World Trade Organization and develop conservation strategies for tropical ecosystems.