Saturday, November 10, 2012

Climate change: taking a toll on coffee?

Eryn Brown in the Los Angeles Times: .... [R]esearchers demonstrated this week that the beloved cup of joe may be at dire risk from climate change. Writing in the journal PLoS One on Wednesday, research botanist Aaron Davis of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew  in London and colleagues reported that climate warming could drive wild varieties of Coffea arabica to extinction by 2080.

Using a computer model, the group analyzed different warming scenarios, focusing on 20-year time spans around 2020, 2050 and 2080. In the best-case scenario for 2080, the African habitats they studied — in Ethiopia, the Sudan and Kenya — would experience a 65% reduction in suitable localities for planting.  In the worst-case scenario, suitable localities declined nearly 100%.  “Our modeling shows a profoundly negative trend for the future distribution of indigenous Arabica coffee under the influence of accelerated global climate change,” the study authors wrote.

Arabica is the prized plant that produces 70% of the more than $15 billion worth of coffee sold around the world each year.  Mostly it is cultivated on farms, which grow varieties descended from a small number of plants that were carried out of Ethiopia in the 1600s and 1700s, Davis told National Geographic this week. 

The lack of genetic diversity in cultivated Arabica plants is a cause for concern for the industry, Davis said, noting that "Arabica's history is punctuated by problems with diseases, pests, and productivity problems — and growers have always gone back to the wild and used genetic diversity to address them.”  By interbreeding wild plants with resistance to pests or climate extremes with the cultivated varieties, they could maintain healthy crops....

Coffee arabica berries, shot by Mette Nielsen, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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