Quantcast

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 Dakota Access pipeline being built in Iowa. Carl Wycoff / CC BY 2.0

The fight between the Standing Rock Sioux and the owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline is back on, as the tribe opposes a pipeline expansion that it argues would increase the risk of an oil spill.

Read More Show Less
Scanning electron micrograph of Yersinia pestis, which causes bubonic plague, on proventricular spines of a Xenopsylla cheopis flea. NIAID / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

A middle-aged married couple in China was diagnosed with pneumonic plague, a highly infectious disease similar to bubonic plague, which ravaged Europe in the middle ages, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Milk made from almonds, oats and coconut are among the healthiest alternatives to cow's milk. triocean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Dairy aisles have exploded with milk and milk alternative options over the past few years, and choosing the healthiest milk isn't just about the fat content.

Whether you're looking beyond cow's milk for health reasons or dietary preferences or simply want to experiment with different options, you may wonder which type of milk is healthiest for you.

Read More Show Less
Greta Thunberg stands aboard the catamaran La Vagabonde as she sets sail to Europe in Hampton, Virginia, on Nov. 13. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images

Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist whose weekly school strikes have spurred global demonstrations, has cut short her tour of the Americas and set sail for Europe to attend COP25 in Madrid next month, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
The Lake Delhi Dam in Iowa failed in 2010. VCU Capital News Service / Josh deBerge / FEMA

At least 1,688 dams across the U.S. are in such a hazardous condition that, if they fail, could force life-threatening floods on nearby homes, businesses, infrastructure or entire communities, according to an in-depth analysis of public records conducted by the the Associated Press.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Sabrina Kessler

Far-reaching allegations about how a climate-sinning American multinational could shamelessly lie to the public about its wrongdoing mobilized a small group of New York students on a cold November morning. They stood in front of New York's Supreme Court last week to follow the unprecedented lawsuit against ExxonMobil.

Read More Show Less

By Alex Robinson

Leah Garcés used to hate poultry farmers.

The animal rights activist, who opposes factory farming, had an adversarial relationship with chicken farmers until around five years ago, when she sat down to listen to one. She met a poultry farmer called Craig Watts in rural North Carolina and learned that the problems stemming from factory farming extended beyond animal cruelty.

Read More Show Less
People navigate snow-covered sidewalks in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on Nov. 11 in Chicago. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Temperatures plunged rapidly across the U.S. this week and around 70 percent of the population is expected to experience temperatures around freezing Wednesday.

Read More Show Less