Stanford Report, September 3, 2013
Pest-eating birds mean money for coffee growers, Stanford biologists find
This is the first time scientists have assigned a monetary value to the pest-control benefits rainforest can provide to agriculture. Their study could provide the framework for pest management that helps both farmers and biodiversity.
By Bjorn Carey
To quantify the benefit birds provide to coffee plantations, the researchers calculated bean yield of infected plants that were housed in bird-proof cages versus yield from infected plants open to beetle-eating birds.
In recent years, Stanford biologists have found that coffee growers in Costa Rica bolster bird biodiversity by leaving patches of their plantations as untouched rainforest.
The latest finding from these researchers suggests that the birds are returning the favor to farmers by eating an aggressive coffee bean pest, the borer beetle, thereby improving coffee bean yields by hundreds of dollars per hectare.
The study is the first to put a monetary value on the pest-control benefits rainforest can provide to agriculture, which the researchers hope can inform both farmers and conservationists.
"The benefits that we might get are huge," said Daniel Karp, a graduate student in biology and lead author of the study. "There's lots of unrealized value in these small patches of rainforest. This looks like a sustainable, win-win opportunity for pest management."
The researchers hope that the work will improve conservation efforts in heavily farmed areas by illustrating to farmers the financial benefits of leaving some land in its natural state, while also guiding governments toward the best conservation methods.
By some accounts, coffee is the world's most economically profitable crop, and its harvest supports the livelihoods of some 100 million people globally. Coffee beans around the world, however, are threatened by the pervasive beetle.
The coffee berry borer beetle (Hypothenemus hampeii) is coffee's primary insect pest and is consumed by native birds.
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