Research Overview

What is a Bird Friendly certified farm, and is it better for birds?

Coffee and cocoa are unique crops because they can be cultivated under a canopy of shade trees. When farms retain diverse and native shade trees, they provide habitat for many species of birds and wildlife that would otherwise be excluded from the agricultural landscape. To become certified, a farm must demonstrate organic management, zero deforestation in the past ten years, and wildlife habitat conservation through retention of native shade trees or forest. Our research shows that farms that meet the Bird Friendly certification standard conserve up to four times as many birds as coffee and cocoa monocultures. Additionally, these farms provide numerous ecosystem services, such as pest control and soil nutrient replenishment, that improve the financial and ecological sustainability of the farm.

What is a Bird Friendly Landscape?

Landscapes in coffee and cocoa growing regions are shaped by the decision of hundreds or thousands of farmers, community members, and public and private organizations. Building a Bird Friendly landscape that supports biodiversity and human wellbeing requires local ecological knowledge and collaboration among the landscape’s many human stakeholders. Our program is working to build a Bird Friendly landscape standard that develops pathways for local communities to assess landscape sustainability and develop action plans to protect or rebuild critical forests and agroforestry systems. Our work draws heavily on the governance framework for OECMs, or Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures, which was recognized by the IUCN World Commissions on Protected Areas in 2018.

How do surrounding landscapes impact the biodiversity of Bird Friendly farms?

The community of bird species using Bird Friendly farms depends in large part on the composition of the surrounding landscape, and many bird species depend on nearby forests for portions of their lifecycle. Our research shows that many groups of birds—especially forest specialists, frugivores, insectivores, and nectarivores—need forest habitat and landscapes with over 40% forest cover (in a 2km radius) to maintain their diversity. As forest cover decreases on the landscape, the complexity of vegetation in a habitat patch, such as a Bird Friendly farm, required to maintain these species increases.

What are food hub trees and why are they important?

One of our lines of research seeks to determine which tree species provide the most abundant food resources to birds in coffee growing landscapes. We call these “food hub trees.” Our preliminary results show that trees in the genus Inga provide disproportionate resources for insectivore birds throughout the year, while many diverse and often endemic fruit producing trees provide most of the food resources for the frugivore bird community. Because farmers face tradeoffs between coffee production and tree cover, we want to recommend a suite a shade tree species that will maximize the food availability to birds on coffee farms. We have thus far published shade-tree catalogs that promote these food hub trees for four regions of Colombia and Peru.


B.A. Pacific Lutheran University, 2006

M.S. Michigan Technological University, 2013

Ph.D., Cornell University, 2018.

Selected Publications

Bennett, R. E., Sillett, T. S., Rice, R. A., & Marra, P. P. 2021. Impact of cocoa agricultural intensification on bird diversity and community composition. Conservation Biology.

Valente, J. J., Bennett, R. E., Gomez, C., Bayly, N. J., Rice, R. A., Marra, P. P., Ryder, T. B., Sillett, T. S. 2022. Land- sparing and land-sharing provide complementary benefits for conserving avian biodiversity in coffee agroforestry landscapes.

Nicolas Gatti, Miguel I. Gomez, Ruth E. Bennett, T. Scott Sillett, Justine Bowe. 202. Eco-labels matter: Coffee consumers value agrochemical-free attributes over biodiversity conservation. Food Quality and Preference. Volume 98.

Bennett, R. E., Rodewald, A. D., & Rosenberg, K. V.  2019. Overlooked sexual segregation of habitats exposes female migratory landbirds to threats. Biological Conservation, 240. (IF=5.9)

Bennett, R. E., Rodewald, A. D., Rosenberg, K. V., Chandler, R., Chavarria-Duriaux, L., Gerwin, J. A., & Larkin, J. L. 2019. Drivers of variation in migration behavior for a linked population of long-distance migratory passerine. The Auk, 136(4).

Bennett, R. E., Leuenberger, W., Bosarreyes Leja, B. B., Sagone Cáceres, A., Johnson, K., & Larkin, J. 2019. Conservation of Neotropical migratory birds in tropical hardwood and oil palm plantations. PLOS ONE, 13(12).

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