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Shade coffee benefits more than birds
Date:12/22/2008

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Here's one more reason to say "shade grown, please" when you order your morning cup of coffee. Shade coffee farms, which grow coffee under a canopy of multiple tree species, not only harbor native birds, bats and other beneficial creatures, but also maintain genetic diversity of native tree species and can act as focal points for tropical forest regeneration.

The finding comes from a study published by University of Michigan researchers Shalene Jha and Christopher Dick in the Dec. 23 issue of the journal Current Biology.

Jha, a graduate student whose main interest is insects, initially wanted to find out whether shade coffee farms nurture native pollinators such as stingless bees. When she began her fieldwork in Chiapas, Mexico, she focused on a particular tree, Miconia affinis, which is pollinated by an unusual method known as buzz pollination. In order to release pollen from its flowers, bees grab hold and vibrate their flight muscles, shaking the pollen free. Non-native species such as Africanized honeybees don't perform buzz pollination, but native bees do, said Jha, "so I thought Miconia, which requires buzz pollination and is common both in forests and on coffee farms, could be a bio-indicator of how well native bees are pollinating native plants."

As she spent time in the field, however, Jha realized that the story of how Miconia trees spread into coffee farms and how their dispersal affects the tree population's genetic diversity begged to be addressed before she proceeded with the pollen studies. With guidance from Dick, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who studies genetic diversity patterns in tropical tree species, Jha collected and analyzed DNA samples from Miconia trees growing in a network of coffee farms and forest fragments.

Typical of many coffee farms in the area, the three farms in the study were clear-cut and
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Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan
rossflan@umich.edu
734-647-1853
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

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