Genetic variation and risks of introgression in the wild Coffea arabica gene pool in south-western Ethiopian montane rainforests

Evol Appl. 2013 Feb;6(2):243-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-4571.2012.00285.x. Epub 2012 Jul 18.


The montane rainforests of SW Ethiopia are the primary centre of diversity of Coffea arabica and the origin of all Arabica coffee cultivated worldwide. This wild gene pool is potentially threatened by forest fragmentation and degradation, and by introgressive hybridization with locally improved coffee varieties. We genotyped 703 coffee shrubs from unmanaged and managed coffee populations, using 24 microsatellite loci. Additionally, we genotyped 90 individuals representing 23 Ethiopian cultivars resistant to coffee berry disease (CBD). We determined population genetic diversity, genetic structure, and admixture of cultivar alleles in the in situ gene pool. We found strong genetic differentiation between managed and unmanaged coffee populations, but without significant differences in within-population genetic diversity. The widespread planting of coffee seedlings including CBD-resistant cultivars most likely offsets losses of genetic variation attributable to genetic drift and inbreeding. Mixing cultivars with original coffee genotypes, however, leaves ample opportunity for hybridization and replacement of the original coffee gene pool, which already shows signs of admixture. In situ conservation of the wild gene pool of C. arabica must therefore focus on limiting coffee production in the remaining wild populations, as intensification threatens the genetic integrity of the gene pool by exposing wild genotypes to cultivars.

Keywords: Afromontane rainforest; admixture; coffee; crop wild relative; ecosystem services; genetic erosion.