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Study delivers sobering news to drinkers of warbler-friendly coffee

Blackburnian Warbler near Swan Lake, Markham, Ontario, by Alexis Hayes.
Blackburnian Warbler near Swan Lake, Markham, Ontario, by Alexis Hayes.

An overview of global coffee distribution and cultivation practices has delivered sobering news to proponents of shade coffee: The area devoted to shade-coffee cultivation around the world declined about 20 percent between 1996 and 2010.

Among 19 coffee-producing nations for which 2010 data were available, approximately 41 percent of the coffee area was managed with no shade, 35 percent was managed with sparse shade, and only 24 percent with traditional diverse shade. In 1996, about 43 percent of surveyed areas was cultivated in traditional diverse shade.

“Given that coffee area decreased globally by 9 percent between 1990 and 2010, whereas world production increased by 36 percent,” write the authors, “we posit that intensification is one of the major drivers of shifting coffee-cultivation practices.”

As management is intensified, plantations have fewer shade trees, fewer species of shade trees, lower canopy cover, and fewer epiphytes. Intensification is also often accompanied by an increased use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and fertilizers. At the far end of the spectrum, coffee is grown in full sun.

The authors’ conclusions about Latin America, where many of the birds that breed in North America spend the winter, were more nuanced.


Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua experienced a decrease in the percentage of coffee under traditional shade management, but coffee-production areas in Honduras, Panama, Mexico, and Haiti increased, and they reported higher percentages of shade production. Consequently, write the reviewers in the journal BioScience, “our calculations for Latin America suggest an increase in the area of land dedicated to diverse shade.”

Contributing Editor Julie Craves described the importance of shade coffee to birds in our article “The True Cost of Coffee” in February 2013.

“During my travels in Latin America, I have visited and surveyed birds on coffee farms in Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, and Mexico,” she wrote. “Wherever I’ve gone, one thing was apparent: The abundance and diversity of birds and wildlife increased along with the abundance and diversity of shade trees on coffee farms.”


The authors of the overview were affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin, Santa Clara University, the University of California, Santa Cruz, the University of Vermont, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Managua, Nicaragua, and the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center.

Read the abstract:

Shalene Jha, Christopher M. Bacon, Stacy M. Philpott, V. Ernesto Méndez, Peter Läderach, and Robert A. Rice (2014) Shade Coffee: Update on a Disappearing Refuge for Biodiversity. BioScience, Vol. 64, No. 5 (May 2014): 416-418. Abstract.

A version of this story appeared in the October 2014 issue of BirdWatching magazine. Subscribe.

Read Julie Craves’s article “The True Cost of Coffee,” describing the importance of shade coffee to birds.



Originally Published

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