Birds and bees study found to improve coffee quality


A new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that coffee beans are bigger and more plentiful when birds and bees team up to protect and pollinate coffee plants.  

The forthcoming study used real-world experiments at 30 coffee farms to prove that the contributions of nature, in this case bee pollination and pest control by birds, are larger combined than their individual contributions.

“Until now, researchers have typically calculated the benefits of nature separately, and then simply added them up,” says lead author Alejandra Martínez-Salinas of the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE).

“But nature is an interacting system, full of important synergies and trade-offs. We show the ecological and economic importance of these interactions, in one of the first experiments at realistic scales in actual farms.”

Without these winged helpers, some travelling thousands of miles, coffee farmers would see a 25 per cent drop in crop yields, a loss of roughly $1066 per hectare of coffee.

“These results suggest that past assessments of individual ecological services, including major global efforts like the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, may actually underestimate the benefits biodiversity provides to agriculture and human wellbeing,” says Taylor Ricketts of the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Environment.

For the experiment, researchers from Latin America and the United States manipulated coffee plants across 30 farms, excluding birds and bees with a combination of large nets and small lace bags.

They tested for four key scenarios: bird activity alone (pest control), bee activity alone (pollination), no bird and bee activity at all, and finally, a natural environment, where bees and birds were free to pollinate and eat insects like the coffee berry borer, one of the most damaging pests affecting coffee production worldwide.

The combined positive effects of birds and bees on fruit set, fruit weight, and fruit uniformity were greater than their individual effects, the study shows.

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