Climate change making a mocha-ry of wild coffee populations

coffee-in-bag If you’re planning on having a cup of coffee in 68 years time, then you might want to think again. Research published in Plos One suggests that by 2080, wild populations of the world’s most popular coffee species, Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica), could be extinct due to climate change.

Wild populations of Arabica coffee are important to coffee producers because of their genetic diversity and could be used to develop new strains of coffee in the future. Wild Arabica populations show a range of disease, pest and drought tolerance, all of which have potential advantages in a changing climate. If the wild population of Arabica coffee were to go extinct, coffee producers would struggle to breed coffee that could survive in new conditions.

Scientists from the UK and Ethiopia used current data on wild Arabica populations and the climate in those locations to model how the climate might affect the distribution of Arabica suitable sites in the future. Once the group had established a model that could accurately predict the current distribution of Arabica sites, they ran this model for several emissions scenarios for a number of time periods: 2020, 2050 and 2080. In the most severe emissions scenario, by 2080 almost 100% of suitable locations for Arabica could be gone for good.

Arabica coffee relies on specific conditions to grow and produce a good yield with the ideal temperature being between 17-24°C. Both higher and lower temperatures limit growth and productivity. Extremes of temperature can be exceptionally damaging. Other aspects complicate this situation such as the fact that the influence of environmental factors depends on the life-cycle stage the plant is undergoing. On top of a loss in productivity, temperature changes can also affect the quality of the coffee beans, leading to a less valuable product for farmers.

The movement of wild Arabica populations to new areas where climates are more suitable is unlikely to happen due to the length of time coffee takes to produce its first beans (3-4 years). These areas are also likely to be fragmented and damaged already by deforestation and other types of human exploitation. The coffee may also be unable to compete with other plants that are already established.


One of the things noted by the authors of the study was the surprising lack of research on one of the world’s most valuable commercial plants. The researchers hope their models demonstration of the fragility of wild Arabica coffee populations will encourage further research and action to ensure the future this well-loved drink.


ResearchBlogging.orgDavis AP, Gole TW, Baena S, & Moat J (2012). The Impact of Climate Change on Indigenous Arabica Coffee (Coffea arabica): Predicting Future Trends and Identifying Priorities. PloS one, 7 (11) PMID: 23144840

Alex Jenkin

Alex Jenkin is the Education Officer for Understanding Animal Research. She has an unhealthy obsession with plant sciences but has no gardening ability whatsoever.

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