Biomass crops grown on marginal soils are expected to fuel an emerging bioenergy industry in the United States. Bioenergy crop choice and position in the landscape could have important impacts on a range of ecosystem services, including natural pest-suppression (biocontrol services) provided by predatory arthropods. In this study we use predation rates of three sentinel crop pests to develop a biocontrol index (BCI) summarizing pest-suppression potential in corn and perennial grass-based bioenergy crops in southern Wisconsin, lower Michigan, and northern Illinois. We show that BCI is higher in perennial grasslands than in corn, and increases with the amount of perennial grassland in the surrounding landscape. We develop an empirical model for predicting BCI from information on energy crop and landscape characteristics, and use the model in a qualitative assessment of changes in biocontrol services for annual croplands on prime agricultural soils under two contrasting bioenergy scenarios. Our analysis suggests that the expansion of annual energy crops onto 1.2 million ha of existing perennial grasslands on marginal soils could reduce BCI between -10 and -64% for nearly half of the annual cropland in the region. In contrast, replacement of the 1.1 million ha of existing annual crops on marginal land with perennial energy crops could increase BCI by 13 to 205% on over half of the annual cropland in the region. Through comparisons with other independent studies, we find that our biocontrol index is negatively related to insecticide use across the Midwest, suggesting that strategically positioned, perennial bioenergy crops could reduce insect damage and insecticide use on neighboring food and forage crops. We suggest that properly validated environmental indices can be used in decision support systems to facilitate integrated assessments of the environmental and economic impacts of different bioenergy policies.
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