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Majority of Wild Coffee Species at Risk of Extinction, Study Finds

Threats to the plants include climate change and habitat loss.

Jan 16, 2019
Shawna Williams

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More than half of the world’s 124 wild coffee plant species meet the criteria for inclusion on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, according to reports published today (January 16) in Science Advances and Global Change Biology. The authors say extinctions among the species would limit plant breeders’ options in developing new types of coffee in the future.

The study, carried out at Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, found that 60 percent of wild coffee species are at risk, a figure that “is extremely high, especially when you compare this to a global estimate of 22% for plants,” says coauthor Eimear Nic Lughadha in a statement. “Some of the coffee species assessed have not been seen in the wild for more than 100 years, and it is possible that some may already be extinct.”

Popular Mechanics reports that most wild coffee species are found in subsaharan Africa, although some live as far afield as Pacific islands. Many of the threatened species live in Madagascar and Tanzania. The threats vary among taxa, but include drought and deforestation. Among those at risk is Arabica, the wild cousin of the commercially grown plant that makes up 60 percent of coffee sales worldwide.

Coauthor Aaron Davis tells Reuters that the threatened species could be a resource for breeders looking to tweak commercial coffee strains by, for example, helping them withstand changing climate conditions or resist disease. “There are many countries which depend on coffee for the . . . bulk of their export earnings,” he tells the wire service. “It’s estimated there are 100 million people producing coffee in farms around the world.” 

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