Majority Of Coffee Species Threatened With Extinction

Losing wild species will impact the coffee we cultivate and drink. andrew crotty/Shutterstock 

Climate change is threatening an unthinkable amount of life on our planet, and our daily caffeine kick is no exception. According to a new study from the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBC), Kew, 60 percent of wild coffee species – including Arabica, the world’s most valuable coffee plant – are threatened with extinction.

There are 124 known wild coffee species, most of which are found in Africa and Madagascar. The world’s coffee industry relies on two species of cultivated coffee, Arabica (Coffea arabica), which makes up 60 percent of traded coffee, and robusta (Coffea canephora), which gives us the other 40 percent.   

Publishing their findings in the journal Science Advances, researchers found that at least 60 percent of all wild coffee species are threatened with extinction. What’s more, they discovered that 28 percent of species are not found in any protected areas and current measures to conserve wild coffee are “inadequate”.

"Overall, the fact that the extinction risk across all coffee species was so high – nearly 60 percent – that's way above normal extinction risk figures for plants," lead author Aaron Davis told AFP.

Although we get our coffee from cultivated crops, not wild coffee plants, the new findings are problematic as we rely on wild coffee to sustain them. As the planet warms, we will need to cross-breed our coffee crops with wild plants that are more genetically diverse in order to produce plants that are more resilient to climate change, along with the pests and diseases that come with it.

"We will call on those wild resources time and time again," Davis told BBC News.

Arabica coffee plantations are very limited in terms of genetic diversity and probably won’t cope well with climate change. Arabica grows naturally in South Sudan and Ethiopia, the largest producer of coffee in Africa, and declines in the species could have serious impacts on the country’s economically important coffee industry.  

Arabica coffee being harvested. KAMONRAT/Shutterstock
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