All posts by Ivan Monagan

The Not-So-Bitter Future of Coffee: Anolis Lizards as Biocontrol Agents in Mainland and Island Agroecosystems

Figure 7. Anolis gundlachi, Orocovis, Puerto Rico.

Figure 1. Anolis gundlachi, Orocovis, Puerto Rico.

The agroecosystems that produce the life-sustaining stimulant we know as “coffee” have long been used as model systems to study complex ecological interactions and ecosystem services, with numerous studies revealing trophic interactions among coffee plants, pests, and pest-predators. Despite the high abundance and overlapping distribution of Anolis lizards, relatively few studies have addressed their functional role in agriculture. In our recent study titled, “Anolis Lizards as Biocontrol Agents in Mainland and Island Agroecosystems,” my colleagues and I explore the biocontrol potential of anoles against the world’s most devastating coffee pest, the coffee berry borer (Coleoptera: Hypothenemus hampei) in mainland and island settings.

My vision of agricultural landscapes as post-apocalyptic biodiversity deserts was trumped the minute I stepped foot onto a shade coffee farm in Orocovis, Puerto Rico. Far from the dystopian nightmare that I had envisioned, this diversified shade coffee farm bustled with the herpetological glory and natural complexity of a native forest (Fig. 1). Furthermore – and perhaps most importantly – the farmer complained not of issues with crop yield, pests, and disease.

As a plant, coffee occurs naturally in the forest understory and is cultivated traditionally among native shade trees as an understory crop. While pressures to increase production have led many farmers to transition to more intensive practices (i.e., the reduction of shade cover and application of agrochemicals to manage crop pests), these methods are becoming increasingly unsustainable and insufficient in light of emerging biological threats. In addition to climate change and the emerging coffee rust disease, the coffee berry borer poses a unique threat for dozens of coffee growing nations and nearly 20 million small-scale farmers who depend on coffee production as a primary commodity and means of subsistence. While the coffee berry borer (CBB) is capable of inducing 60-90% reductions in yields and persists unaffected by topical pesticides, our understanding of the predator-prey interactions that drive its top-down control and how these factors vary across management regimes and eco-geographic space has profound socio-economic and environmental implications for biological control.

Representative photographs of diversified shade coffee in Mexico (a), diversified shade coffee in Puerto Rico (b), intensive sun coffee in Mexico (c), and intensive sun coffee in Puerto Rico (d).

Figure 2. Representative photographs of diversified shade coffee in Mexico (a), diversified shade coffee in Puerto Rico (b), intensive sun coffee in Mexico (c), and intensive sun coffee in Puerto Rico (d).

To assess the biocontrol capacity of anoles, we conducted experimental and field-based tests of how CBB populations respond to anole predation across mainland (Mexico) and island (Puerto Rico) coffee farms with parallel forms of land-use intensity. Anole functional response and infestation reduction potential were assessed by simulating pest outbreaks in the lab, while coffee farms were surveyed along complementary gradients of intensification. Organic, diversified shade coffee farms were representative of low-intensity production, and sun coffee monocultures that included the application of agrochemicals were representative of high intensification (Fig. 2). Continue reading The Not-So-Bitter Future of Coffee: Anolis Lizards as Biocontrol Agents in Mainland and Island Agroecosystems