How birds and bees help coffee trees


Sipping coffee on the way to work is a ritual that most people take for granted without worrying about how the delicious coffee beans reached their cup. You probably know that it comes from tropical regions. But what is less known is that coffee is the result of an incredible partnership between birds and bees.

A recent One study investigated how birds help control pests and how bees help pollinate coffee plantations. Research has shown how working with wildlife can help farmers earn more money. But this is just one example of the benefits that nature offers us and that we take for granted.

Nature purifies the water we drink and the air we breathe, it helps control disease, and nature reserves give us incredible spaces to relax and exercise. It also gives us direct financial benefits. For instance, global crop pollination by bees and other pollinators such as birds is worth $195bn (£160m). Recent estimates show that 75% of major world food crops), such as potatoes, soybeans and tomatoes, depend on animal pollination.

A hot food

This includes coffee, an important tropical plant with a global export value of 24 billion dollars in 2012. About 20 to 25 million households depend on coffee culture for their livelihoods, including traders, export managers, farmers and cafe baristas.

Bee on coffee flower.

Although Arabica coffee (Arabica coffee) can self-pollinate, pollinators increase fruit size (when a flower turns into a berry) and yield. Farmers often regard birds as a pest species, eating seeds and crops. But birds feed on the coffee tree moth (Hypothenemus hampei Ferrari), a small beetle that is one of the most harmful pests to coffee crops.

Value of nature

On 30 small coffee farms in Costa Rica, researchers compared crop growth when they were cut off from birds and bees. The experiment helped researchers quantify the economic value of pest control, pollination and the combined effect on coffee production.

At each site, four plants were surrounded by plastic netting small enough to exclude foliage-feeding birds, but large enough to allow bees and other small animals access to the plant. The other four factories were left unfenced. On each of the eight plants, four similar branches were selected, and bees were prevented from visiting the flowers on these branches by fine-mesh nylon gauze bags.

Results showed that birds and bees increased fruit set and fruit weight by 4–11% and reduced broca infestation. These effects were greatest when birds and bees were allowed to visit the coffee plants. The study authors estimate that excluding birds and bees would result in an average yield loss of 24.7%, which equates to $1,066/ha (£830/ha).

Synergistic interactions occur when two processes connect and the outcome or product is greater than the sum of the separate effects. Interactions between different pollinating animals can improve yields. Sometimes bees managed by beekeepers are used to pollinate crops. The presence of wild bees can alter the behavior of managed honey bees. For example, different types of bees may have different foraging habits, leading to an overall increase in movement and the number of flights. This behavior can lead to a significant increase in crop yield in almond orchards.

About 35-40% of the potential crops in the world are destroyed by pestslike locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) or army worms (Spodoptera exempta). These insects make a tasty snack for the birds. Birds also help scatter the seeds. When we protect nature, we help ourselves.

Coffee is grown in some of the most wildlife-rich habitats on the planet, but farming methods are getting more and more intense. This threatens bird species that are already listed concern for conservationas cerulean (Setophaga cerulea) and the Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivorous Chrysoptera). Many of these bird species depend on insects from forests that have been largely replaced by coffee plantations. One way to help wildlife on farms is shade-grown coffee planted under a canopy of trees. It not only provides a home for birds and the insects they feed on, but also produces better quality coffee. Shade-grown coffee farms help endangered primate species such as the Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus).

Golden-winged Warbler.

Conservationists need to help farmers design plantations that balance the needs of wildlife while making good profits. Intensive agriculture is also a problem for wildlife closer to home. United Kingdom, farmland bird populations of species such as doves (Streptopelia turtur) and larks (Alauda arvensis) have falled. Farmers can make a huge difference for nature leaving patches of rugged grassland and scrub. But they need government support to compensate for lost crops.


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