February 16, 2018, Wildlife Conservation Society
It's an age-old debate for coffee lovers. Which is better: Arabica beans with their sweeter, softer taste, or the bold, deep flavor of Robusta beans? A new study by WCS, Princeton University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison appearing in the journal Scientific Reports has taken the question to unlikely coffee aficionados: birds.
The researchers, led by WCS Associate Conservation Scientist Dr. Krithi Karanth, surveyed for bird diversity in coffee agroforests in India's Western Ghats region. Previous research has demonstrated that shade-grown coffee (typically Arabica) can harbor substantial levels of biodiversity. But coffee production is globally shifting toward Robusta, which uses a more intensive full-sun agricultural systems, which may pose deleterious impacts for forest wildlife.
What the researchers found was surprising: although Arabica avian assemblages were more species rich, Robusta nevertheless offered substantial biodiversity benefits, and supported higher densities of several sensitive avian populations such as frugivores. In addition, farmers use less pesticides in the more disease-resistant Robusta farmlands.
The authors found a total of 79 forest dependent species living in the coffee plantations they surveyed, including three IUCN Red-Listed species: Alexandrine parakeet (Psittacula eupatria), grey-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus priocephalus) and the Nilgiri wood pigeon (Columba elphinstonii). Plantations can harbor a diversity of mammals, amphibians and tree species, too.