Effect of nitrogen fertilization on caffeine production in coffee (Coffea arabica)

David J. Gonthier, Jason D. Witter, Alison L. Spongberg, Stacy M. Philpott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Nitrogen (N) based secondary metabolite production is thought to be costly to plants because N is required for growth, as well as, the synthesis of these compounds. Therefore, variation in N availability may result in variation in N-based secondary metabolite production. Here, we determine the effect of N fertilization on caffeine (N-based alkaloid) production in coffee (Coffea arabica) seedlings. A growth chamber experiment was performed with three N treatments applied to seedlings. N fertilization increased plant growth, leaf biomass, and plant N. Caffeine concentration in phloem exudates was greater in high-N fertilized plants relative to intermediate- and low-N plants. However, leaf, stem, root, and total overall caffeine concentration and content did not differ across N treatments. These results suggest caffeine in coffee is strongly regulated by genetic factors, and environment is likely less important to caffeine phenotype. This is among the first studies to investigate the effect of N fertilization on caffeine within the phloem, which has important implications for herbivores that are sensitive to caffeine and plant N and feed from the phloem of coffee.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-130
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
R. Friedrich, L. Moorhead, C. Murnen, and G. Pardee helped in lab work. J. Frantz and the USDA provided elemental analysis. S. Heckathorn, I. Perfecto, L. Moorhead, K. Ennis, and two anonymous reviewers contributed greatly to the preparation of previous manuscripts. The Plant Science Research Center allowed the use of their facilities. This research was supported by a Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research, the Society of Integrated and Comparative Biology Grant-in-Aid of Research, the University of Toledo, and USDA grant number 2003-38894-02032.


  • Alkaloid
  • Chemical defense
  • Methylxanthine
  • Nitrogen
  • Resource availability
  • Secondary metabolites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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