Coffee is one of the world’s most highly consumed food products, with its farming and distribution comprising a multi-billion dollar global industry.  While many Americans (64% in 2018, according to Reuters) could not imagine making it through the day without a hot cup of joe, there is bad news for coffee drinkers: new research from the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens finds that a majority of wild coffee species are now at risk of extinction.

To assess the risk of extinction, Aaron Davis and colleagues compiled over 5000 records of wild coffee species specimens.  They then applied criteria from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species guidelines, such as species population size and reduction in number of plants over time.  They found that 60% of species fulfilled the criteria for being threatened with extinction, a staggering number compared to the 22% estimate for all plants.  Of the 60%, a 10% subset was classified as critically endangered, meaning those species are facing an extremely high risk of extinction.  Included in the threatened species was Arabica, which is widely farmed in sub-Saharan Africa and accounts for 60% of global coffee trade.

Importantly, this study only examines the extinction risk of wild coffee species, which does not directly reflect a reduction in coffee farming.  However, the results do hold major implications for the future of the coffee farming industry.  Most notably, the seeds from wild coffee plants are routinely used to sustain coffee crops.  By cutting off the source of coffee seeds, extinction would have long-term impacts on the ability of farmers to meet coffee market demands.  As the threatened species have different natural abilities to withstand drought and pests, their extinction would also prevent breeders from establishing new coffee strains that could survive better in the face of climate change.

There is still hope for all the coffee lovers out there; Davis and colleagues propose a number of measures to reduce the threat of coffee species extinction, including improving wild seed inventories.  These efforts, however, would require a major commitment from both local governments and the international conservation community.

Managing Correspondent: Benjamin Andreone

News Article: Majority of Wild Coffee Species at Risk of Extinction, Study Finds. The Scientist

Original Article: High extinction risk for wild coffee species and implications for coffee sector sustainability. Science Advances

Image Credit: Pixabay

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