Assessing the Potential of Polyculture to Accelerate Algal Biofuel Production

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To date, the algal biofuel industry has focused on the cultivation of monocultures of highly productive algal strains, but scaling up production remains challenging. Algal monocultures are difficult to maintain because they are easily contaminated by wild algal strains, grazers, and pathogens. In contrast, theory suggests that polycultures (multispecies assemblages) can promote both ecosystem stability and productivity. A greater understanding of species interactions and how communities change with time needs to be developed. Ultimately a predictive model of community interactions is needed to harness the capacity of biodiversity to enhance productivity of algal polycultures at industrial scales. Here we review the agricultural and ecological literature to explore opportunities for increased annual biomass production through the use of algal polycultures. We discuss case studies where algal polycultures have been successfully maintained for industries other than the biofuel industry, as well as the few studies that have compared biomass production of algal polycultures to that of monocultures. Assemblages that include species with complementary traits are of particular promise. These assemblages have the potential to increase crop productivity and stability presumably by utilizing natural resources (e.g. light, nutrients, and water) more efficiently via tighter niche packing. Therefore, algal polycultures show promise for enhancing biomass productivity, enabling sustainable production and reducing overall production costs.


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