Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Pest-eating birds mean money for coffee growers

Date:
September 5, 2013
Source:
Stanford University
Summary:
This is the first time scientists have assigned a monetary value to the pest-control benefits rainforest birds can provide to agriculture. Their study could provide the framework for pest management that helps both farmers and biodiversity.

The yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia) is a pest-eating bird that frequents coffee plantations.
Credit: Image courtesy of Stanford University

This is the first time scientists have assigned a monetary value to the pest-control benefits rainforest birds can provide to agriculture. Their study could provide the framework for pest management that helps both farmers and biodiversity.

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.

Worldwide scourge

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 insect burrows into the beans and eats its way out, ruining the beans. It originated in Africa and has made its way into nearly every major coffee-producing country. It arrived in Hawaii two years ago, and coffee plantations there are already experiencing 50 to 75 percent less yield.

"It's the only insect that competes with us for coffee beans," Karp said. "It's the most damaging insect pest by far, causing some $500 million in damage per year."

Stanford biologists have been studying the intersection of nature and agriculture in Costa Rica since the 1990s, in part because of the vast amounts of land in that country dedicated to coffee production. The borer beetle arrived in the past few years, and Karp's group began to investigate whether farms with protected forests, and thus a greater biodiversity of insect-eating birds, fared better under attack from the insects.

A 'not-so-glamorous' experiment

To quantify the benefit birds provide to plantations, the researchers first calculated coffee bean yield -- the amount of healthy, beetle-free beans that could be harvested -- of infected plants that were housed in bird-proof cages versus yield from infected plants in the open, where birds were eating the beetles.

Next, they needed to confirm which species of birds were eating the beetles, and whether the birds required forest to survive. This required a more unorthodox approach.

"We had the not-so-glamorous task of collecting the birds' poop, and then taking it back to Stanford and looking through the DNA within it to learn which birds were the pest preventers," Karp said.

Five species of birds contributed to cutting infestation rates in half, and these birds were more abundant on farms featuring more forests.

"Depending on the season, the birds provide $75 to $310 increases in yield per hectare of farmland," Karp said. The birds' activity could become even more valuable if the beetle infestation worsens.

The scientists found that the closer the forests were to the farms, the greater benefit the birds provided. Specifically, smaller stands of trees -- roughly the size of a few football fields -- situated throughout crop fields provided better levels of beetle protection than the much larger forest preserves set on the outskirts of farms.

By differentiating the financial gains of different conservation strategies -- large but distant preserves versus small, local stands of trees -- Karp thinks the study could provide a framework for introducing similar efforts in agricultural zones around the world.

"This work suggests that it might be economically advantageous to not farm in certain areas of a plantation," Karp said. "We're going to start trying to generalize these results so that farmers, conservationists, land managers and governments can use them anywhere to make simple estimates of what they might gain in pest protection by protecting certain patches of the landscape."

The study was published in the online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Ecology Letters. The work was co-authored by Stanford biology Professors Gretchen Daily, Paul Ehrlich and Elizabeth Hadly; biology graduate student Chase Mendenhall; Nicolas Chaumont, a software engineer at the Natural Capital Project; and Randi Figueroa Sandi, a field assistant in Copal de Agua Buena in Costa Rica.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Stanford University. The original article was written by Bjorn Carey. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Daniel S. Karp, Chase D. Mendenhall, Randi Figueroa Sandν, Nicolas Chaumont, Paul R. Ehrlich, Elizabeth A. Hadly, Gretchen C. Daily. Forest bolsters bird abundance, pest control and coffee yield. Ecology Letters, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12173

Cite This Page:

Stanford University. "Pest-eating birds mean money for coffee growers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130905101952.htm>.
Stanford University. (2013, September 5). Pest-eating birds mean money for coffee growers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130905101952.htm
Stanford University. "Pest-eating birds mean money for coffee growers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130905101952.htm (accessed August 28, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) — State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) — Hoping to break the record for world's wooliest, Shaun the sheep came up 10 pounds shy with his fleece weighing over 50 pounds after being shorn for the first time in years. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) — Canadian scientists looking into the very first land animals took a fish out of water and forced it to walk. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fake Dogs Scare Real Geese from Wis. Park

Fake Dogs Scare Real Geese from Wis. Park

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) — Parks officials in Stevens Point, Wisconsin had a fowl problem. Canadian Geese were making a mess of a park, so officials enlisted cardboard versions of man's best friend. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins