User:Raf Aerts/Notebook/Open Coffee

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Forest fragmentation and genetic diversity of Wild coffee

  • Official title: Productivity and genetic diversity of Wild coffee (Coffea arabica) in its center of origin, southern Ethiopia, in relation to forest management and land use
  • Key words: agroforestry, crop wild relatives, forest fragmentation, genetic resources, highland coffee, inbreeding depression, non-timber forest product, outbreeding depression, pollen limitation

Coffee is the most valuable agricultural commodity and Coffea arabica L. accounts for 66% of the world coffee market. Ethiopia is currently the third largest arabica coffee producer in the world. Ethiopia holds a unique position in the world as Coffea arabica has its primary centre of diversity in the southwestern highlands of the country, where coffee occurs as an understorey species in the Afromontane forest. This implies that the genetic diversity present in this region is exceptionally high and of major importance for world future coffee breeding. Detailed insight in the level of genetic diversity present, and in the genetic structuring of the populations is currently lacking, however, although some small scale pioneer studies indeed suggest the presence of high genetic diversity within wild coffee populations.

At least two important anthropogenic processes are currently eroding the genetic diversity in wild coffee populations. First, deforestation of the Afromontane rainforest threatens the habitat of the wild coffee populations. The remaining wild coffee populations become fragmented, and prone to genetic erosion. Second, hybridization of the wild populations with introduced coffee cultivars, for example resistant to CBR, may negatively affect genetic diversity.

This research project has three major goals. First, genetic markers (SSR) will be applied to get profound insight in the level and structuring of coffee genetic diversity in SW Ethiopia. Major gradients of genetic diversity will be identified. Second, the research aims at identifying the major threats to coffee genetic diversity with special attention to the locally applied coffee management practices. Third, the research aims at proposing practical guidelines for in-situ conservation of the genetic diversity of coffee.

This research project is a postdoc project of RA and doubles as a Ph.D. project for an Ethiopian member of the Environmental Health and Ecology team of the institutional cooperation between Jimma University (Ethiopia) and the Flemish universities with Ghent University assuming the coordinating duties. The promotors of the Ethiopian Ph.D. candidate are Prof. Dr. Olivier Honnay (K.U.Leuven), Prof. Dr. Isabel Roldán-Ruiz (ILVO), Dr. Raf Aerts (K.U.Leuven).


  • The data associated to this research project, which was finalized in september 2011, is archived in the open-access repository Dryad. doi:10.5061/dryad.37r9p
  • The main findings of this research project are published in the open-access journal Evolutionary Applications.
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