The vulnerability of Cafecito in Puerto Rico

Reference: Fain, S. J.; Quiñones, M.; Alvarez-Berríos, N. L.; Parés-Ramos, I. K.; Gould, W. A., 2017: Climate change and coffee: assessing vulnerability by modeling future climate suitability in the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Climatic Change., 146, 175–186. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-017-1949-5

Are you a morning coffee drinker? So am I.

In Puerto Rico, coffee is both economically and culturally important. Coffee is grown mostly in the cooler shaded mountainous forest regions of the island. Because of the limited areas where it can grow, coffee production can be vulnerable to climatic changes. The two coffee species that are predominantly grown in Puerto Rico are arabica (Coffea arabica) and robusta (Coffea canephora; Fig. 1). Both require relatively cool environments of less than 27C (80F). The coffee plant robusta (Coffea canephora) is more tolerant than arabica (Coffea arabica) due its tolerance to warmer temperatures, which may lead to an agricultural shift towards this species as the island warms.

 

Figure 1. Left, Coffea arabica; right, coffea cenaphora.

Climate change and vulnerability assessment of coffee production in Puerto Rico

In their study, Quiñones and collaborators set out to predict how warming from global climate change would impact the areas where coffee can be grown in Puerto Rico. To do this, Quiñones and collaborators simulated three scenarios of global warming. As shown in Figure 2 below, A2 scenario simulates mid-high levels of change, the A1B simulates mid to low levels of change, and B1 simulates minor changes.

The last row of the table shows 50 years into the future: the areas where coffee can be grown in Puerto Rico are expected to shrink considerably (Fig. 2).

Even worse: all models simulate that by 2070 the island will be unfavorable for coffee growth.

Fig. 2: The leftmost column simulates the most extreme change in temperature and the leftmost column the mildest change. Darker green colors show areas that are favorable, lighter green unfavorable, and pink show unsuitable areas.
Climate change can also increase the frequency of severe hurricanes

This study focused mainly on how rising temperatures and precipitation changes impact the suitability of areas for coffee plantations. However, another factor of projected climate change is the increased frequency of severe storms, particularly in the Atlantic Ocean.2 In 2017, Puerto Rico was impacted by one of the most severe hurricanes in history, Hurricane Maria. After the hurricane, coffee plants were severely damaged due to strong winds and landslides. Also, many trees were knocked down, leaving gaps in the forest canopy. These gaps allow light into the forest, eliminating the cool shaded environment coffee plants need to thrive. The areas where coffee is grown was the most severely affected by the hurricane3 (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Forest impacts of hurricane Maria. Darker red colors show areas more heavily impacted by the hurricane.
Preparing for the future

Knowing the impacts of climate change include warmer temperatures, coffee farmers are relying more on hybrids between C. arabica/C. canephora to produce varietals that are more resistant to heat and drought. Thanks to studies like this, farmers can develop strategies to cope with rapid change and ensure that local Puerto Rican café can be enjoyed in 2070!

 

Other Resources:

1.  Fain, S. J., Quiñones, M., Alvarez-Berríos, N. L., Parés-Ramos, I. K. & Gould, W. A. Climate change and coffee: assessing vulnerability by modeling future climate suitability in the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Clim. Change 146, 175–186 (2017).

2. Murakami, H., Vecchi, G. A. & Underwood, S. Increasing frequency of extremely severe cyclonic storms over the Arabian Sea. Nat. Clim. Chang. 7, 885–889 (2017).

3. Feng, Y. et al. Rapid remote sensing assessment of impacts from Hurricane Maria on forests of Puerto Rico. doi:10.7287/peerj.preprints.26597v1

 

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Kevin Aviles Rodriguez

I am in the process of completing my PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. I am interested in human environmental changes as natural experiments to test hypothesis about the evolution of animals. Specifically, I study small lizards known as anoles and how living near human households impacts their ecology and behavior. I love fieldwork because often it takes me away from the cold and towards the sunny beachy islands that I love the most.

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