A fig tree

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center scientists are working to learn more about the impact of land management—specifically the farming of crops, such as coffee—on the birds that share these lands.

Traditionally, coffee has been grown in the shade. Widespread conversion to sun plantations has wiped out swaths of tropical forest that provided high-quality habitat for many migratory birds and other wildlife. SMBC researchers investigate how coffee farmers can maintain productive farms while also providing that much-needed habitat.

Through decades of research, SMBC scientists have learned what combination of foliage cover, tree height and diversity is required to strike that balance. They have used that information to develop Bird Friendly standards for coffee, the only 100 percent organic, shade-grown coffee certification in the world.

Researchers continually work to learn more and to improve the program. For example, an SMBC postdoctoral fellow recently determined that Bird Friendly farms harbor a greater diversity of mammals. Ongoing work in partnership with an entomologist colleague focuses on which shade tree species support the greatest insect diversity, thus providing the most food for birds. A nascent project will compare the soil microbiome of a shade coffee system to that of a sun system—data that might provide evidence of another benefit associated with agroforestry systems.

SMBC's work has and will continue to influence coffee production. In doing so, it not only helps the wildlife that rely on these farms for habitat but also provides an option for people to participate in the conservation of habitat for birds and other wildlife.


Coffee in the crosshairs of climate change: agroforestry as abatis Using Plant–Animal Interactions to Inform Tree Selection in Tree-Based Agroecosystems for Enhanced Biodiversity Drinking Green, Zoogoer Magazine Fruit Supplementation Affects Birds but not Arthropod Predation by Birds in Costa Rican Agroforestry Systems Do Bird Friendly® Coffee Criteria Benefit Mammals? Assessment of Mammal Diversity in Chiapas, Mexico Conserving biodiversity through certification of tropical agroforestry crops at local and landscape scales Fruits from shade trees in coffee: how important are they? Simplification of a coffee foliage-dwelling beetle community under low-shade management The contribution of epiphytes to the abundance and species richness of canopy insects in a Mexican coffee plantation An Experimental Study of Habitat Selection by Birds in a Coffee Plantation Agricultural intensification within agroforestry: The case of coffee and wood products Biodiversity Loss in Latin American Coffee Landscapes: Review of the Evidence on Ants, Birds, and Trees Coffee: ecology in the marketplace Field-testing ecological and economic benefits of coffee certification programs Are epiphytes important for birds in coffee plantations? An experimental assessment Conservation policy in coffee landscapes Coffee Production in a Time of Crisis: Social and Environmental Connections The impact of avian insectivores on arthropods and leaf damage in some Guatemalan coffee plantations Noble goals and challenging terrain: Organic and fair trade coffee movements in the global marketplace A Place Unbecoming: the Coffee Farm of northern Latin America The land use patterns and the history of coffee in eastern Chiapas, Mexico Bird populations of sun and shade coffee plantations in Central Guatemala Shade Coffee: A Disappearing Refuge for Biodiversity Interspecific Aggression By Yellow Warblers In a Sun Coffee Plantation

Continue Exploring

Changing Landscapes Initiative

Smithsonian scientists work alongside community members in Northwestern Virginia to evaluate the impacts of land-use change on wildlife, ecosystem services and community health.

Coral Biobank Alliance

Smithsonian scientists are part of the Coral Biobank Alliance, a global network of coral experts preserving corals for restoration and research.

Coral Species Cryopreserved with Global Collaborators​

View a list of the coral species that have been cryopreserved using a technique developed by Smithsonian scientists.

Wildebeest Conservation

Conservation Ecology Center scientists are tracking the movements of white-bearded wildebeest to understand how changes across the landscape impact the species.

Protecting Piping Plovers in the Great Lakes

In 2022, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center will begin a new research project to help protect endangered piping plovers from predation by merlins.

Swift Fox Recovery

Smithsonian scientists, in collaboration with the Fort Belknap Fish and Wildlife Department, are embarking on a five-year swift fox reintroduction project to restore swift foxes to tribal lands and to help reestablish connectivity between disjointed swift fox populations.

Conserving the World’s Largest Working Wetland

Conservation Ecology Center researchers are collaborating with institutions in Brazil and other Smithsonian colleagues to support sustainable cattle ranching in the Pantanal wetland.