Climate change is creating an uncertain future for coffee production. Higher temperatures shifting the Coffee Belt, unpredictable and more volatile weather patterns decreasing production, farmers having to rip out trees to plant more temperature-resistant varieties, the effects of climate change on coffee are multi-faceted. But climate change is having a negative impact on another part of the ecosystem and it has a trickle-down effect on coffee production. The changing temperatures are killing pollinating insects, which could decrease the amount of coffee a tree produces.
As reported by Euronews, a new study in the journal Science Advances examines how climate change is affecting pollinators, particularly in tropical regions, like those where coffee grows. Looking at data on over 3,000 insect pollinator species—bees, flies, moths, etc—from nearly 2,700 different sites, they found that, as temperatures increase outside their typical range—and combined with shrinking habitats—the total number of pollinators decreases by 61%.
While Arabica coffee is self-pollinating, it still relies heavily on these insects for maximal production, and without it, total output will dip. The countries expected to be most affected by pollinator loss include Brazil, Indonesia, India, China, the Philippines, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
And climate change appears to be having a particularly deleterious effect on pollinators in tropical climates. The authors suggest that, unlike their counterparts in more temperate climates who have adapted to survive in larger temperature ranges, these tropical insects may already be near their suitable temperature range; increasing the temperature even a few degrees now puts them outside of that range.
The authors also posit that it may also be what makes these insects such good pollinators that puts them uniquely at risk. The bugs typically have hairier bodies and legs, which are useful for carrying pollen from one flower to the next, but may be leading to them overheating. It’s like “being forced to have a big furry coat and it’s it’s getting hot,” states Tim Newbold, an ecologist at the University College of London and the study’s co-author.
While this explanation for why pollinators in particular are seeing their numbers drop hasn’t quite received universal acceptance, their loss due to climate change is undeniable, and it leaves the plants that need them in equally uncertain footing.