Restoration on caffeine: Coffee pulp accelerates early tropical forest succession on old fields

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Rebecca J. Cole , Rakan A. Zahawi

Publication Date:

Applying nutrient-rich agricultural by-products, such as fruit peels and pulp, to degraded land has been proposed as a strategy to overcome a number of barriers to tropical forest recovery. While such linkages between agroindustry and restoration represent win-win scenarios, practical applications remain largely unexplored. In this case study, we tested coffee pulp as an amendment to catalyze forest succession on post-agricultural land in southern Costa Rica. A 0.5-m-deep layer of coffee pulp was deposited across a 35 ; 40-m area and an adjacent control plot was delineated. Over two years, we measured changes in soil nutrients, ground cover, understory vegetation, tree establishment, and canopy cover across both coffee pulp and control treatments. After two years, soil C, N, and P were significantly elevated in coffee pulp compared to control treatments. Coffee pulp addition significantly altered ground cover characteristics, eliminating pasture grasses, facilitating establishment of herbaceous plants, and increasing percent area covered by leaf litter. Early-successional trees and shrubs established quickly in the coffee pulp treatment, reaching 30-fold greater mean basal area and 20-fold greater woody stem density (>1-cm-dbh) compared to the control treatment. Structural metrics showed 4-fold greater mean canopy height in the coffee pulp compared to control treatment. Canopy height >5 m was ~40% in the coffee pulp treatment but only 2% in the control. Our study highlights the significant potential for using agricultural waste, like coffee pulp, to jump start forest succession on degraded tropical lands and encourages further research to optimize linkages between agroindustry and restoration.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program