Does your Colombian coffee endanger species?
Guzmán, Adriana et. al "Agroecosystems and primate conservation: Shade coffee as potential habitat for the conservation of Andean night monkeys in the northern Andes" Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. Volume 215, 1 January 2016, Pages 57–67. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2015.09.002
Colombian coffee is recognized around the world. Well known for its quality, it is drunk every morning by myriads of people looking for a daily boost. However, that morning coffee can pose a threat to endangered species. Similar to other agricultural and livestock activities, modern coffee plantations remove the natural habitats and decrease the areas where native species can dwell and find food. Among the species affected by the growing of coffee crops are the night monkeys, also called the Lemurine owl monkey. While this may pose an ethical dilemma for lovers of nature and coffee, there fortunately exists an alternative to obtain Colombian coffee without impacting the conservation of night monkeys.
In a study published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, a team of researchers from the Colombian National Coffee Research Center and different Colombian universities investigated whether traditional coffee plantations are more suitable for the monkeys' habitat than those that grow "modern" crops. Traditional coffee plantations utilize tall trees between the crops to shade the coffee plants, while many modern plantations include large extensions of coffee but no other plants in the middle of the plantation. The researchers, led by the research center's Adriana Guzmán, hypothesized that the trees of shaded crops would provide food and shelter for the monkeys. To prove their hypothesis, they observed two families of Lemurine owl monkeys in San Vicente de Chucurí, in the Colombian Andean cordillera over a period of 27 months.
The study included different methods to record the activities, food preferences, and habitats of the groups. The researchers monitored a monkey in each family with a radio collar to collect GPS information of the monkey's movements at night. They also used baiting platforms to capture the monkeys and to analyze their physical characteristics., They also conducted focal animal samples, which entails the constant observation and registering of the animals' activities. The results obtained by the researchers show that night monkeys use an important percentage of coffee shade farms as their core area of habitat. Moreover, the first group spent a third of the total monitoring time in coffee shade plantations, which for this group was correlated with the amount of fruits available in the area.
Shade coffee plantations have trees that produce fruits that night monkeys and other species eat. These trees are not only a potential source of energy for endangered species, but also play other important roles in the ecosystem. Their presence also helps to improve the quality of soils, increasing the soil moisture throughout the drought season. The trees improve conditions for pollinator populations and increase the connection between natural habitats for animals. In addition to these ecosystem benefits, shaded crops produce a higher quality of coffee than sun coffee plantations. All these features of coffee shade plantations are recognized through certification programs, which allow the farmers to set higher prices for their products.
Although the results show that night monkeys spend less time in shaded coffee than predicted, the study demonstrate that coffee shade plantations may be an important alternative to complement conservation efforts for the Lemurine owl monkey. For this species, the natural forest is fundamental for its conservation. Shaded coffee plantations help to strengthen the habitat areas of the monkeys by increasing the "buffer zones," or transition areas between natural forests and agricultural spaces.