PORTLAND, OREGON--Preserving forest fragments around a Costa Rican coffee plantation has boosted its crop yields and raised its income $60,000 per year by providing a reliable source of bees that help pollinate the plants, a new study finds.
Nature provides humans with all kinds of benefits, such as clean water and a stable climate. We generally take these "ecosystem services" for granted, but some economists, ecologists, and conservationists have been trying to tally their monetary value, hoping the financial bottom line will provide people with incentive to reduce pollution and preserve biodiversity. Most such efforts to date have been global in scale.
In search of a concrete local example, a research team homed in on a coffee plantation in Costa Rica and measured the value of one ecosystem service, pollination of the coffee crop by bees. Taylor Ricketts of the World Wildlife Fund and colleagues examined 11 bee species that visited the farm from nearby stands of rainforest. Flowers near the forests received twice as many bee visits as did flowers farther away--and they were dusted with double the pollen. As a result, coffee plants near the forests had 20% greater yields and 27% fewer deformed beans. Combining these data with market prices for coffee, the team calculated that bee pollination accounts for $62,000 annually, or 7% of the farm's income. The forests also provided a reliable source of pollinators, because wild species took up the slack when populations of feral honeybees crashed.The value of pollination alone makes conserving the natural forest a great investment, the researchers say. For instance, cattle grazing would yield only $24,000 per year. Ricketts presented the findings here 3 August at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America. They also appear in papers appearing online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and in next month's issue of Conservation Biology.The study "provides a tangible example of the benefits of [forests] in a way that's immediately relevant to the coffee farmers," says conservation scientist Andrew Balmford of the University of Cambridge, U.K. "The key to getting ecosystem services on the table for decision making is to begin to quantify them properly and to do it in a locally relevant way."Related sites
Taylor Ricketts's Web page 
Fact sheet on pollination as an ecosystem service 
Environmental effects of the coffee industry in Costa Rica