• Bees pollinate the coffee plants, while birds eat the pests on them
  • Researchers looked at their impact on 30 Costa Rican coffee farms
  • Their combined benefits are greater than their individual impact

How important are birds and bees to coffee plants? Their combined contributions are actually greater than their individual impacts, researchers have found.

Birds and bees are important to coffee plants, with bees providing the all-important pollination services and birds dealing with the pests. However, the impacts of such creatures' ecological services on crop production are often studied separately and then simply added up later on, the researchers of a new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, noted.

"Ignoring that these services, being part of the same system, likely interact is blinding us to potential synergies and trade-offs," the researchers wrote.

"Interactions could be positive (synergy), negative (trade-offs), or absent (additive effects), with strong implications for management and valuation," they added.

For their study, the researchers conducted an experiment on coffee plants at 30 Costa Rican coffee farms. They looked at four scenarios – bird activity alone for pest control, bee activity alone for pollination, no bird or bee activity and the natural environment where the birds can eat the pests and the bees can pollinate the plants, the University of Vermont (UVM) noted in a news release.

Indeed, the researchers found that the positive effects of the combination of the birds and bees on the fruit weight, set and uniformity were greater than their individual impacts. These factors are important when it comes to the valuation of the crops' price and quality, UVM noted. Without the birds and the bees, the average crop yield declined by a whopping 24.7%, which amounted to about $1,066 per hectare.

"Using our experimental results, we demonstrate that bird pest control and bee pollination services translate directly into monetary benefits to coffee farmers," the researchers wrote.

The results show that perhaps previous assessments have underestimated the valuable impacts of biodiversity on agriculture and even on human well-being, one of the study's authors, Taylor Ricketts of UVM, explained in the news release.

Furthermore, not only do the results show the birds and bees' importance to the billion-dollar coffee industry, but it also shows the importance of protecting these species. In fact, the researchers also found that many of the birds providing their pest control services actually flew from as far as the U.S. and Canada.

"One important reason we measure these contributions is to help protect and conserve the many species that we depend on, and sometimes take for granted," one of the study authors, Natalia Aristizábal of UVM, said in the news release. "Birds, bees, and millions of other species support our lives and livelihoods, but face threats like habitat destruction and climate change."

Representative image. Pixabay-Daniel Ramirez