Thursday, February 5, 2015

A coffee & birds study from the home of coffee

There are a number of bird studies looking at the effects of coffee plantations versus forests or shade coffee versus sun coffee. Most of these studies are from Central and South America and very few from Africa. 

Recently accepted in a special issue of Biological Conservation is a study by graduate student Even Buechley and colleages on shade coffee in a region of Ethiopia where coffee is a native species. I love thinking about locals picking coffee beans in the area for hundreds (thousands?) of years. My long lost coffee cousins. Unfortunately, there isn't a link from the journal but the University of Utah published a press release. The link from Biological Conservation should be appearing soon. 

Coffee is a shrub and shade coffee plantations grow under large trees that shade the plants below. Studies from the Americas show, very strongly, that shade coffee is much better for birds than sun coffee. You can now buy coffee from shade coffee plantations if you wish to support birds - I do. In Ethiopia, this study showed that coffee plantations had more species than forest and coffee plantations served as adequate habitat for several forest species as well as migrant birds from Europe (yes, birds migrate there too!). 

Shade coffee plantation with coffee below and canopy above.
Photo Credit: Evan Buechley, University of Utah.

This study is going to get some great press - as it deserves. Large portions of the tropics and near tropics are coffee plantations. How we manage coffee plantations will likely have huge effects on tropical diversity. National Geographic just ran a story here

I need to get to Africa and see some birds and, damn it, I need a cup of coffee. 


  1. Timeline: 10c.: first mention of coffee in an Islamic medical text; 15c.: evidence for use in Sufi religious rituals; 15c.-16c.: beginning of mass consumption in the Islamic World; 16c.: first consumption in Europe; late 17c.-early 18c.: worldwide spread of cultivation into first Asia and then the Americas. As a vice, coffee drinking has a very short history!

  2. That's surprising. I just assume anything with a bright red berry within arms reach would have a long history with humans.

  3. Probably in Ethiopia, but we lack the textual or achaeolgical evidence.