How Coffee Affects Biodiversity

by |November 21, 2011

A 2003 graduate of CERC’s Executive Education Program in Conservation and Sustainability and doctoral student at the University of Rhode Island, S. Amanda Caudill writes for NY Times Scientist at Work, where she is assessing biodiversity on coffee farms in Costa Rica.

Crab-eating raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus) in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica - Photo by Steven G. Johnson.

Drawing upon previous field research in the Coorg region of southwest India, S. Amanda Caudill is currently evaluating mammal biodiversity in coffee dominated regions in Turrialba, Costa Rica. Her findings will help determine which habitat parameters are important to the mammals and shape suggestions on how to enhance the habitat, in part through recommendations of sustainable farming practices.

S. Amanda Caudill notes that coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, acting as the primary export for many developing countries. Though coffee was traditionally grown in native forests, it has become increasingly common to replace the diverse ecosystem with a monoculture of coffee plants. This change has profound effects on the species richness and abundance that the landscape can support and the environmental services that can be provided, including soil erosion, pollination, and water clarification.

Though researchers have explored the impact of developing these coffee habitats on birds and insects, the affect on mammals remains largely unknown, placing S. Amanda Caudill’s research at the forefront of conservation.

S. Amanda Caudill and her field assistants use small and large traps and track plates and camera traps to directly and indirectly survey animals in the region, respectively. She notes that the logistics are relatively straightforward, but challenges often emerge, as the equipment can be difficult to find in the field and liable to be stolen by thieves. Additionally, using machetes to cut trails and set up trap locations is extremely dangerous, resulting in serious injuries if necessary precautions aren’t taken.

To read more about S. Amanda Caudill’s amazing research adventures, visit her blog at Scientist at Work. For more information on CERC’s Executive Education Program in Conservation and Environmental Sustainability, visit our website or contact Desmond Beirne at cerc@columbia.edu or 212-854-0149.

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Joyce
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It’s good to hear that such a study is being done. When one thinks of coffee, there isn’t a lot of thought that goes into the animal biodiversity of the area. It would be interesting to see what results this study produces.

Tiffany Vincent
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Glad to see this research moving forward. Joyce is right, you don’t think much about the animal biodiversity when you think of the impact of coffee. Maybe it’s my midwestern upbringing, but I just think of the plant diversity.