Coffee, frogs and workers: A recap of Robbins’ lecture for Harriet Elliott Lecture Series

Posted on February 28, 2020

People watch lecture


People watch lecture

Over 50 students, faculty and staff at UNC Greensboro (UNCG) took time on their Tuesday afternoon to listen to Dr. Paul Robbins, dean of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, discuss how labor drives the biodiversity that exists on plantations in western India.

This lecture took place on February 25 as part of the spring 2020 Harriett Elliott Lecture Series (HELS), and it didn’t disappoint. Robbins gave a passionate talk about the biodiversity of plant and animal species that thrive on these coffee plantations.

Robbins immediately made the connection with labor in western India and the diversity of the coffee plantations by explaining how the economy and cost of labor drives the decisions by farmers when picking a species of coffee to grow. Depending on the species, Arabica or Robusta, the type of coffee will determine how the farmer will manage his property with undergrowth of other plant species on the plantation.

The diversity of these plant species that thrive under the coffee tree canopy in turn supplies a thriving ecosystem for birds and frogs. Robbins talked about his field research on these coffee plantations as his team mapped out what bird and frog species are found on the different types of plantations. They found that, because plantations cover more than three times the amount of land of national parks, they are vitally important to maintain a diversity of birds and frogs in western India.

These findings circled back to his initial statement of how labor drives diversity since the farmers need to make profit in order to provide habitat for many of these species to live. For the sake of plant and animal diversity in India, a place that I lived before moving to Greensboro, I hope these coffee farmers can continue to profit and maintain plantations for thriving plant and animal life.

Nathan Rector headshot
Nathan A. Rector


Article by Nathan A. Rector, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability. His research interests include the effects of climate change on the Himalayan Gangotri glacier and how that impacts the Hindu pilgrimages.

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