Holy crappuccino. There's a latte trouble brewing... Bio-boffins reckon 60%+ of coffee species may be doomed

Climate change is going to make Monday mornings much, much, much more of a grind

Coffee plants, the source of the warm brown elixir powering millions of people worldwide using the magic of caffeine, are, it is claimed, at risk of extinction.

A study led by researchers at the UK's Royal Botanical Gardens indicates at least a whopping 60 per cent of all 124 coffee species are under threat of annihilation by climate change and deforestation. Their findings were published this month in Science Advances and Global Change Biology.

The coffee industry is dominated by the Arabica and Robusta species, and is reliant on the farming of wild coffee crops. Both types of plants, however, are now on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (ICUN) Red List as an endangered species, classified as having a “very high risk of extinction in the wild.” The team of researchers decided to check all 124 wild coffee species against this criteria for this Red List, and believe at least one in six were threatened with extinction.

Which is not good news for those of us relying on the stuff for our morning, afternoon, and evening pick-me-ups. The good news, if you can call it that, is that we're talking about climate change over many decades, into the 2080s, which most of us won't be around to witness in any case.

“This is the first time an IUCN Red List assessment has been carried out to find the extinction risk of the world’s coffee, and the results are worrying,” said Eimear Nic Lughadha, a senior research leader at the conservation department at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.

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"A figure of 60 per cent of all coffee species threatened with extinction is extremely high, especially when you compare this to a global estimate of 22 per cent for plants. Some of the coffee species assessed have not been seen in the wild for more than 100 years, and it is possible that some may already be extinct.”

For Ethiopia in particular, where the wild Arabica plant originated, the researchers mapped out the effects of a changing climate in the African nation, and found its Arabica population could decrease by 85 per cent within the next 70 years.

“Among the coffee species threatened with extinction are those that have potential to be used to breed and develop the coffees of the future, including those resistant to disease and capable of withstanding worsening climatic conditions,” noted Aaron Davis, lead author of the paper published in Science Advances and head of coffee research at Kew.

“The use and development of wild coffee resources could be key to the long-term sustainability of the coffee sector. Targeted action is urgently required in specific tropical countries, particularly in Africa, to protect the future of coffee.” ®

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