How does coffee help butterflies?

As natural forests are lost, coffee and timber plantations could provide hope for Lepidoptera. 

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Gamo Highlands

Researchers have found that coffee and timber plantations in Ethiopia encouraged more butterfly species diversity than cropland when compared to numbers in natural forests.

“Our study shows that tropical butterflies are strongly influenced by agriculture,” said Anglia Ruskin University’s Dr Olivia Norfolk.

“They exhibit extreme declines when forest is converted into cropland and pasture, but are retained in relatively high numbers in coffee forests and timber plantations.”

There was an average of 10 different butterfly species recorded per hectare in plantations compared to 14 in natural forests. Cropland had an average of three species per hectare.

Tropical butterflies have much higher dependence on trees than butterflies in temperate zones, which are often associated with meadows.

In Ethiopia, there are 376 species of tropical butterfly, and since 2000, more than a 25 per cent of Ethiopia’s mountain forest has been lost due to agriculture and logging.

“Planting trees in agricultural landscapes and encouraging wooded agriculture such as coffee forests may help to soften the impact and act as a corridor to allow movement of butterflies between isolated forest patches,” said Norfolk. 

“However, protecting the remaining natural forest is essential for conserving Ethiopia’s diverse community of colourful butterflies.”

Read the paper in Biotropica. 

 

Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine

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