Research project Genetics of Robusta coffee in the Congo basin


Effects of tropical rainforest disturbance on gene flow, genomic diversity and introgression in understory trees: the case of Coffea canephora in the Congo basin.

Coffee plant

Main research question

The research project FWO-Canephora focuses on the diversity of coffee in the Congo basin. The researchers want to study the disturbance of the tropical rainforest, namely how large and what effects this disturbance has on the exchange of genetic material, genomic diversity and introgression in trees in the understory, specifically on Coffea canephora (Robusta coffee). The goal is to map the population genetic structure, gene flow, and pollinators and frugivore communities of Robusta coffee.

Research approach

By comparing coffee populations from regions that differ in their degree of anthropogenic pressure, we will investigate the potential threats from anthropogenic interferences. We will combine (i) state of the art genomic tools to quantify genetic diversity and gene flow, (ii) observations of pollinator communties and frugivores, and (iii) experimental field work.


This research is certainly relevant to the future of coffee, and the biodiversity of genetic material in general. Tropical rainforests cover only 7% of the earth's surface, but they are by far the richest biomes in terms of natural diversity in vascular plants. In order to support the resilience and long-term stability of tropical rainforests, the regeneration of the trees present must be safeguarded. However, crucial aspects of gene flow, such as pollinators and seed spread, are experiencing a great deal of pressure from large-scale human disturbances of the tropical rainforest. In addition, there is the risk of degeneration of the natural gene pool by hybridizing so-called Coffee Crop Wild Relatives with planted cultivars.