60% of wild coffee species at extinction risk due to climate change

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Climate change, disease, coffee rust and pests coffee beetle can pose a threat to commercial varieties, but the wild species, which are not used in agriculture, there is resistance to climate change and pests.

Farmers in Ethiopia have reported that climate change has reduced growing of coffee as the dry season is getting longer and the average annual temperature has increased by 1.3 degrees Celsius from 1960 to 2006.

The study found that 75 of coffee species are now threatened with extinction, 13 of which were listed as "critically endangered".

"As a coffee drinker you don't need to worry in the short term", said Davis. And fewer than half of all the wild species are safeguarded in so-called germplasm collections-banks for seed and living plants kept in protected areas as backups.

The research was conducted with guidelines from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the organization that publishes the global red list of threatened species.

Scientists say the figure is "worrying", as wild coffee is critical for sustaining the global coffee crop.

Global coffee chain Starbucks, which uses all Arabica beans, failed to respond to a request for comment.

With that in mind, British researchers set out to examine the extinction risk of the 124 coffee species out there. Chadburn adds, "Some other coffee species are naturally low in caffeine, or have an excellent (and unusual) flavor".

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In an age where gene editing is a common tool in laboratories around the world, it's not quite as simple as transferring a pest-resistant gene, for instance, from one coffee species to another. Those two are responsible for most of the commercial coffee in the world, but they are just two of hundred of inter-related species of the coffee plant in the world-and many of those species are in danger.

Arabica beans are at the core of rich, flavorful blends including Javan coffee, Ethiopian sidamo and Jamaican blue mountain. Group II encompasses all 38 African coffee species-23 of which are threatened.

The threats facing wild coffee are significant for the future of one of the world's most widely drunk brews because wild varieties have been used to breed and improve the cultivated stock over the years, the experts said.

"Certainly some of the wild relatives might offer us options for breeding some of those in the future".

It had not been seen in the wild since 1954, and has all but vanished from coffee plantations and botanic gardens.

We only really use two species of coffee, Arabica and robusta, for the coffee we drink. Some countries like Ethiopia have launched the Yayu Forest Coffee Project, which encourages farmers to plant coffee inside forests, creating a cash crop while protecting precious woodlands. There are other options too, but she says, "Conserving coffee in seed banks and specific field stations is often hard and costly, but may also be needed".

By Somini Sengupta New York Times News Service Aaron Davis, a British botanist, has spent 30 years trekking across forests and farms to chronicle the fate of one plant: coffee.