Ecosystems

Hybrid coffee cultivars may enhance agroecosystem resilience to climate change

Your daily cup of coffee could be threatened by climate change, but targeted plant breeding may be here to help.

Climate change is threatening the economic sustainability of many agroecosystems. In addition to rising temperatures, climate change is causing significant fluctuations in annual precipitation patterns, including extreme events that result in drought and flooding stress for crops. It is also contributing to enhanced pest, disease and weed pressure. One of the proposed solutions is to breed more resilient crop genotypes.

Arabica coffee is a globally significant commodity that is expected to be impacted by climate change because it is reliant on particular temperature regimes for the production of quality beans and is sensitive to the timing and quantity of rainfall. Coffee sustains the livelihoods of an estimated 100 million people on 12.5 million farms in over 60 countries. Coffee cultivars are selected in breeding programs based primarily on yield, quality, pest and disease tolerance, cost and historical and cultural considerations. However, there is a distinct lack of information on how coffee cultivars vary in their responses to current and future environmental conditions.

(A) The research site near Santa Maria de Dota, Costa Rica. (B) Control shelter with mesh roofing and (C) rainout shelter with polycarbonate roofing, gutter, pipes and in-ground plastic barrier. Image credit: Pappo et al.

A new study from Pappo et al. published in AoBP, found that coffee yields can be impacted by changing rainfall patterns, but those effects can be mitigated by planting more resilient cultivars. The study experimentally reduced precipitation for five coffee cultivars and measured yield over two harvests in Costa Rica, ultimately finding that the F1 hybrid cultivars in the experiment outperformed the other cultivars under both reduced and ambient conditions.

The findings of Pappo et al. suggest the selection of more resilient cultivars can help maintain agroecosystem production in the face of a changing climate. Variation among cultivars in response to water stress indicates that greater rainfall under climate change may threaten coffee production and that cultivar selection. However, this variation will also be useful for the selection of cultivars that can maintain production under variable rainfall conditions.

Researcher highlight

Emily Pappo is a PhD student in the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, where she is earning her degree in Interdisciplinary Ecology. Previously, she earned her MSc in Agronomy from the University of Florida in 2019 and her BA in Environmental Studies from New York University in 2012.

Emily’s research interests are informed by her decade of work in the specialty coffee industry prior to starting her academic career, where she held a variety of positions, most recently as a roaster and green coffee buyer. Her work in the coffee industry introduced her to the challenges faced by coffee producers, particularly in the face of a changing climate, and now drives her research interest in better understanding how climate change will impact coffee production and quality and how we can build resilience to these impacts.