60% of the wild coffees are under threat of extinction - scientists

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The study urges governments and commercial producers to increase protections for coffee species and stockpile more seeds.

"Overall, the fact that the extinction risk across all coffee species was so high - almost 60 percent - that's way above normal extinction risk figures for plants", lead author Aaron Davis, head of coffee research and plant resources at Kew, told AFP.

The variety behind the world's most popular cup of joe, Coffee arabica, is now classified as endangered, largely due to projections of how it will be impacted by climate change.

"Because if you look at the history of coffee cultivation, we have used wild species to make the coffee crop sustainable".

The study of 124 coffee species found that 75 of these are considered under threat from extinction, 35 are not threatened while there is a lack of data on the remaining 14 species.

Te worsening crisis could mean the future of the coffee we drink is under threat, as wild species are traditionally used to breed and improve the cultivated beans in the coffee we drink. "We hope our findings will be used to influence the work of scientists, policy-makers and coffee sector stakeholders to secure the future of coffee production - not only for coffee lovers around the world, but also as a source of income for farming communities in some of the most impoverished places".

Wild coffee species form the foundation of the multi-billion-dollar coffee industry.

"As a coffee drinker you don't need to worry in the short term", he said. Climate change and deforestation are to blame.

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Wild coffees are threatened by destruction or damage to the forests where they grow, for agriculture and other human activities, and by rising temperatures which alter the specific climatic conditions they need to thrive in.

Coffee is something many of us (including yours truly) can't live without.

Arabica beans are at the core of rich, flavorful blends including Javan coffee, Ethiopian sidamo and Jamaican blue mountain. Using computer modelling they were able to project how a changing climate would affect the species in Ethiopia, showing that the number of locations where Arabica grows could decrease by as much as 85 per cent by 2080. "And we also need to designate new protected areas".

In an age where gene editing is a common tool in laboratories around the world, it's not quite as simple as transferring a pest-resistant gene, for instance, from one coffee species to another. The authors say extinctions among the species would limit plant breeders' options in developing new types of coffee in the future.

Coffee leaf rust (Hemileia vastatrix) on a Robusta plant. Today, arabica makes up around 60% to 70% of all coffee sales worldwide, with robusta (C. canephora) filling up the rest.

Included among the 60 per cent under threat of extinction are those that could be key to the future of coffee production, they said. Coffee seeds don't store well, unlike wild relatives of other crops such as wheat or maize.

Most wild coffee beans don't contain that much sugar - or caffeine either, for that matter.

Dr Eimear Nic Lughadha of Kew said this is the first time an IUCN Red List assessment has been carried out to find the extinction risk of the world's coffee, and the figure of 60% is "extremely high".

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