Plant oil is a key commodity in the global economy, particularly for food and bioenergy markets. However, current production practices often impair smallholder livelihoods, cause land use changes, and compete for food production. The neotropical palm Acrocomia aculeata is being promoted as a novel sustainable biomass feedstock, particularly for bioenergy, but only little is known about the palm’s ecological requirements.
Based on a comprehensive literature and database search for recorded occurrences of A. aculeata in Latin America, the authors computed an ecological niche model to determine the palm’s potential distribution area based on climatic and soil variables. They subsequently considered current land cover and predicted future climate change scenarios to discuss the cultivation potential of A. aculeata within its possible distribution area.
The results revealed a large potential to cultivate A. aculeatain Latin America under current abiotic environmental conditions. The two core distribution regions identified were (1) Central America including the Caribbean, northern Colombia and Venezuela, and (2) southern Brazil and eastern Paraguay. A considerable proportion of the medium to highly suitable growing areas were found to be currently used for agricultural production or covered by land types with high conservation and carbon sequestration value.
Applying the model under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) A2A ‘business as usual’ emission scenario suggested that by 2080 the vast majority of suitable growing areas may severely decline in extent or disappear entirely. The ecological niche modeling thus shows that despite the palm’s high cultivation potential, a sustainable deployment of A. aculeata requires a precautionary, evidence-based approach.
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