Bird Conservation and Coffee Farms


The coffee plant was imported to the New World from Africa by the Portugese and Spanish in the early 1600s. For many years coffee was grown primarily in Central America in a rustic setting; that is, coffee plants were interspersed with native vegetation in the shade of a multilayered forest canopy that left most of the habitat in place for the native plants and animals. In recent years there has been a movement to intensify coffee production to make it a more efficient cash producing commodity. This has involved concentrating the coffee plants, intensifying chemical inputs, and converting forests to coffee plantations that have little or no shade trees on them.

Thomas Dietsch did his doctoral research in southern Mexico quantifying the effects of various styles of coffee farming on the birds that live in those parts. Birders have long known that shade-coffee plantations were relatively good places to find birds. It is also clear that a sun-coffee monoculture with few or no trees is a biological desert. Dietsch's research asked the crucial question, What happens to the birds as coffee plantations lose their shade trees?

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