By Dan Nosowitz
"Savor that cup of coffee while you can," reads the first sentence of a recent CNN article.
That article, along with many others, is a report on a new study from researchers at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, one of the world's biggest and most important botanical research facilities. Most of the coverage of the study emphasizes one number: 60 percent of all coffee species are threatened with extinction.
That number needs context. The idea that coffee may go extinct, that there may be no coffee or that it will become rare, is not really likely, but neither is the study something to brush off. Effectively this is one in a long line of studies and surveys showing how macro forces—climate change, deforestation, pollution—will affect an important crop.
The Coffea genus, which comprises the fruiting shrubs that give us coffee, is more diverse than most realize. Coffee dorks will doubtless be familiar with the two most important species economically (C. robusta and C. arabica), but not the 120 or so others found in tropical Africa, the islands of the Indian Ocean, and parts of Asia and Oceania. The vast majority of these are not grown on any real commercial scale; many are used locally, but most Coffea species aren't even cultivated, instead existing solely in the wild.
As with many plants restricted to a certain climate—wine grapes, chocolate—climate change is potentially devastating for many Coffea species. Deforestation is a major destructive force in much of the tropics, thanks to growing development, slash-and-burn agriculture, and the booming palm oil industry, among other causes, and here, too, Coffea is at risk. Many Coffea species—not robusta or arabica, but the lesser-known ones—are also limited to small, sometimes isolated populations, where a single event can simply wipe out the entire species. They require forested areas, are not especially adaptable, and require healthy habitats. This is all bad news for the survival of a species.
But the study is limited to wild Coffea species. Wild coffee is certainly important economically as a whole, but the vast majority of arabica and robusta, which make up almost the entire market, are farmed. These are not going extinct.
This is not to say, of course, that there's no consequence for a perilous existence of dozens of species of plants. The basics of any extinction hold true for Coffea: it plays a vital role in its ecosystem, in this case providing fruit for animals in addition to shade, protection against erosion, and all the other important things shrubs and trees do.
From an agriculture perspective, the researchers note that having a diversity of wild species is vital to the health of the coffee industry. The wide variety of coffee plants enable cross-breeding for all sorts of desirable traits, from resistance to droughts to protection against certain pests or diseases.
Coffee, as a product, is not really in any immediate risk. But losing even these comparatively rare and unknown wild varieties could cause major problems for the industry down the road, hampering the coffee industry's ability to react to the problems that pop up with any crop. And, of course, the basic point is an echo of a multitude of other studies: the whole planet is seriously at risk.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
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Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.