Published: Sun, January 20, 2019
Sci-tech | By April Francis

Wild coffee species endangered by habitat loss

Wild coffee species endangered by habitat loss

Climate change, disease, coffee rust and pests coffee beetle can pose a threat to commercial varieties, but the wild species, which are not used in agriculture, there is resistance to climate change and pests.

Wild coffee species are under threat, with 60 per cent of them facing possible extinction due to climate change and the loss of natural habitat, as well as by the spread of diseases and pests, scientists have said.

"There is potential to use previously unutilised or under-utilised wild coffee species to produce new coffee crop cultivars or hybrids, via breeding, that are able to grow in climates that arabica and robusta coffee can not tolerate", Dr Davis said.

The study published in Science Advances - a collaboration between scientists in the United Kingdom and Ethiopia - says that unless governments and commercial producers ramp up protections for coffee species and stockpile more seeds, it could impact your daily grind.

Partly to blame are the severe droughts associated with climate change, as well as deforestation. So we can't rely on storage in seed banks to conserve coffee diversity and resilience.

The scientists conducted the survey of coffee species under guidelines from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a body that publishes a global Red List of threatened species. The authors say extinctions among the species would limit plant breeders' options in developing new types of coffee in the future.

Wild Arabica is used to supply seeds for coffee farming and also as a harvested crop in its own right.

"There's a market for low-caffeine coffee and, in fact, some of these [wild species] could be a way we produce naturally decaffeinated coffee", Professor Henry said.

"Coffee [crop wild relatives] have provided major sustainability solutions for the global coffee sector for the last 400 years and to the present day", the researchers wrote.

"Ethiopia is the home of arabica coffee", Tadesse Woldermariam Gole, who studies how climate change is impacting coffee at the Forest Forum, told Phys.org.

Where is wild coffee found?

Much of this work was undertaken first-hand in the wild locations where coffee grows, mainly in the remote forests of Africa and on the island of Madagascar, researchers said.

Preserving different coffee varieties in botanic gardens isn't really viable for protecting genetic diversity either. Finding coffee among thousands of other plants was extremely hard, he says.

"The challenge will be to get ones that can make coffee that we like to drink", Professor Henry said.
"We hope this new data will highlight species to be prioritised for the sustainability of the coffee production sector so that appropriate action can be taken to safeguard their future".

Coffee trees, like many tropical plants, have seeds that do not survive the freeze-drying process used in conventional seed banks - 45% of coffee species have not been "backed up" outside the wild.

Wild coffees are threatened by destruction or damage to the forests where they grow, for agriculture and other human activities, and by rising temperatures which alter the specific climatic conditions they need to thrive in.

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