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The world's most popular coffee species are going extinct. And scientists say we are to blame

Posted: 3:17 PM, Jan 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-21 17:18:41-05
Coffee

Savor that cup of coffee while you can. New research shows 60 percent of coffee species found in the wild could soon go extinct.

Researchers at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in the UK warn that climate change, deforestation, droughts and plant diseases are putting the future of coffee at risk .

"The important thing to remember is that coffee requires a forest habitat for its survival," senior researcher Aaron P. Davis told CNN. "With so much deforestation going on around the world, wild coffee species are being impacted at an alarming rate."

Davis added that coffee plants grow in very specific natural habitats, so rising temperatures and increased rainfall brought by climate change can make coffee impossible to grow in places the plants once thrived.

"Considering threats from human encroachment and deforestation, some (coffee species) could be extinct in 10 to 20 years, particularly with the added influence of climate change," Davis said.

The study published in Science Advances -- a collaboration between scientists in the UK and Ethiopia -- says that unless governments and commercial producers ramp up protections for coffee species and stockpile more seeds, it could impact your daily grind. Fewer coffee crops means your morning cup might get more expensive and taste worse .

Out of 124 types of wild coffee, 75 are at risk of extinction. About 35 of the 124 species grow in areas with no conservation protections.

The most popular kind of coffee for commercial production, arabica, is already on the endangered species list. Davis' previous research revealed that arabica coffee could become extinct in as little as 60 years.

But even the less common types of coffee are vital, researchers said. Preserving a diverse crop of wild coffee plants is useful for developing commercial coffee that's resistant to changing climates and pests . To create genetically modified plants, researchers need to preserve diverse coffee genes.

The Kew scientists say that compared to other plants, it's more difficult and more expensive to keep coffee seeds alive in storage banks. So focusing on saving coffee's natural environment is key.

Ethiopia recently created three new protected areas in an effort to save wild arabica coffee, according to Davis. But the study reveals the highest threat is to coffee growing in Madagascar and Tanzania."

The first thing you need to do is conserve them in the wild, so we need to improve the management of protected areas," Davis said. "And we also need to designate new protected areas."