Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

60% of Wild Coffee Species at Risk for Extinction

Energy
Robusta coffee beans growing on a tree. Dag Sundberg / Getty Images

If humans don't wake up now to the threats posed by climate change and habitat loss, we may be in for a permanently sleepy future. A study led by scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew found that 60 percent of wild coffee species are at risk for extinction.


"A figure of 60% of all coffee species threatened with extinction is extremely high, especially when you compare this to a global estimate of 22% for plants," Kew Conservation Department Senior Research Leader Eimear Nic Lughadha told The Guardian.

The research, published in Science Advances Wednesday, applied International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species standards to the 124 known species of wild coffee and found that 60 percent were at risk for extinction, 45 percent are not held in any seed banks and 28 percent grow entirely outside protected areas.

While commercial coffee is a mix of only two species—Arabica (Coffea arabica) and Robusta (Coffea canephora)—a loss of biodiversity among wild coffee species could threaten the long term health of cultivated varieties.

"If it wasn't for wild species we wouldn't have as much coffee to drink in the world today," lead study author Dr. Aaron Davis of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew told BBC News. "Because if you look at the history of coffee cultivation, we have used wild species to make the coffee crop sustainable."

Davis explained some of this history in a write-up for Kew. By the end of the nineteenth century, all cultivated coffee was Arabica coffee. But that proved a weakness when a fungal disease called coffee leaf rust broke out in Asia. Farmers tried to resolve the crisis by planting the resistant Liberica coffee, but it tasted awful. Then, scientists"discovered" Robusta coffee, though it had been cultivated in West Africa on a small scale since the early 1800s. It was both resistant to the fungus, easy to grow and tasty. In the early 1900s, it began to be grown across the tropics and now makes up around 40 percent of the global coffee trade value.

Davis explained how a similar solution might be needed in the future:

The increasing severity of pests and diseases, the loss of suitable space to grow coffee and climate change are all having their impact, putting increasing pressure on coffee farmers. There are a number of possible solutions to these problems. Important opportunities are likely to come from the use of wild coffee species, and the incorporation of specific genes from wild plants via breeding. This may seem fanciful to some, but this is exactly what has happened in the past, as given in the example above for Robusta coffee and numerous examples where we have utilized genes from wild coffee diversity to resolve production issues. Might we be using previously unused or under-utilized wild coffee species in the future, or the useful genes they contain?

This solution will be more difficult, however, if those wild coffee species are extinct.

The Kew team also worked with Ethiopian researchers to assess the status of wild Arabica coffee, which grows naturally in Ethiopia's highland rainforests, according to BBC News. They found that, if climate change projections are taken into account, it also qualifies an endangered species. Climate factors alone are set to reduce its population by 50 percent or more by 2088.

The researchers published their findings in a separate article in Global Change Biology on Wednesday.

"Given the importance of Arabica coffee to Ethiopia, and to the world, we need to do our utmost to understand the risks facing its survival in the wild," study author Dr. Tadesse Woldemariam Gole of the Environment and Coffee Forest Forum in Addis Ababa told BBC News.

Kew Gardens recommends improving seed bank collections for wild coffee and implementing programs where the wild species are used, since that provides incentives for conservation. For example, Davis pointed to the Yayu Forest Project in Ethiopia where wild coffee is harvested directly from forested areas surrounding an untouched forest where wild Arabica coffee grows, and improvements to quality and price motivate the farmers to preserve the forest that makes the system possible.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Yersinia pestis bacteria causes bubonic plague in animals and humans. Illustration based on light microscope image At 1000x. BSIP / UIG Via Getty Images

A herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague Sunday, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Plant pathologist Carolee Bull works in her home garden in State College, Pennsylvania. Carolee Bull, CC BY-ND

By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull

Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.

Read More Show Less
Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income. Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Emma Charlton

The effects of climate change may more far-reaching than you think.

Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income, according to a new study published on ScienceDirect by researchers from Italy's Ca' Foscari University.

Read More Show Less
Naegleria fowleri (commonly referred to as the "brain-eating amoeba") is a free-living microscopic amoeba (single-celled living organism). Centers for Disease Control

As if the surging cases of coronavirus weren't enough for Floridians to handle, now the state's Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that a person in the Tampa area tested positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba, according to CBS News. The Florida DOH posted a warning to residents to remind them of the dangers of the rare single-celled amoeba that attacks brain tissue.

Read More Show Less

Scientists are urging the WHO to revisit their coronavirus guidance to focus more on airborne transmission and less on hand sanitizer and hygiene. John Lund / Photodisc / Getty Images

The World Health Organization (WHO) is holding the line on its stance that the respiratory droplets of the coronavirus fall quickly to the floor and are not infectious. Now, a group of 239 scientists is challenging that assertion, arguing that the virus is lingering in the air of indoor environments, infecting people nearby, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Along the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico, oysters live in coastal estuaries where saltwater and freshwater meet and mix. Flickr / CC by 2.0

Along the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico, oysters live in coastal estuaries where saltwater and freshwater meet and mix.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Japan Self-Defense Forces and police officers join rescue operations at a nursing home following heavy rain in Kuma village, Kumamoto prefecture on July 5, 2020. STR / JIJI PRESS / AFP / Getty Images

Scores of people remained stranded in southern Japan on Sunday after heavy rain the day before caused deep flooding and mudslides that left at least 34 people confirmed or presumed dead.

Read More Show Less