Your Morning Cup of Coffee Wouldn't Be Nearly As Easy to Come By Without Birds and Bees, New Study Finds

Without birds eating nearby pests and bees pollinating the coffee plants, it's estimated that coffee farmers would see a 25 percent decline in crop yields.

fresh brewed pour over coffee on counter
Photo: Bernine / Getty Images

If you start your morning with a cup of Joe, you have more to thank than just your coffee machine and beans. According to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Vermont, birds and bees play a major role in coffee production. Some of the winged creatures even travel thousands of miles to perform their coffee-making responsibilities, which include protecting and pollinating coffee plants. Their work results in larger and more plentiful beans. What's more, it's estimated that without them, coffee farmers would see a 25 percent decline in crop yields.

To obtain their findings, scientists in both Latin America and the United States manipulated various coffee plants across 30 farms, making sure to remove birds and bees from the environment. In all, the team created four distinct scenarios: one in which birds acted separately to remove pests, one where bees acted separately as pollinators, no bird and bee activity, and one in which birds were able to eat nearby pests while bees pollinated simultaneously. They found that when they worked together, birds and bees' combined impact was more significant than their individual benefits.

This is the first research to show nature's combined contributions to coffee production using real-world experiments, revealing that when nature's creatures work in unison it far outweighs individual efforts. "Until now, researchers have typically calculated the benefits of nature separately, and then simply added them up," says lead study author Alejandra Martínez-Salinas of the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center in a university release. "But nature is an interacting system, full of important synergies and trade-offs. We show the ecological and economic importance of these interactions, in one of the first experiments at realistic scales in actual farms."

One of the most notable findings was how far birds migrated to provide pest control to coffee plants in Costa Rica, with some traveling all of the way from Canada and the United States, including Vermont. The same research team is also studying how changing farm landscapes impact birds' and bees' ability to provide benefits to coffee production. "One important reason we measure these contributions is to help protect and conserve the many species that we depend on, and sometimes take for granted," says Natalia Aristizábal, a PhD candidate at UVM's Gund Institute for Environment and Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. "Birds, bees, and millions of other species support our lives and livelihoods, but face threats like habitat destruction and climate change."

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