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Searching the avocado flower aromas

An initiative of the INIA of Chile and the FIA ​​aim to identify the volatile compounds emitted by avocado flowers to develop an artificial attractant that enhances pollinators to come to the crop.

9/21/2020

A bumblebee, pollinating an avocado flower.

An initiative of the INIA and the FIA ​​of Chile is committed to developing artificial attractant to manage pollination and improve avocado cultivation. It is a kind of synthetic floral bouquet, which simulates the aroma of the avocado flower and which will be used to attract wild pollinator insects, an action that will even improve the cultivation of the fruit in Chile.

The technological development consists of the formulation of an artificial attractant that will be obtained at the end of the initiative entitled "Development of artificial attractant as input for the implementation of a pollination management strategy in avocado orchards var. Hass from the Valparaíso region ”. The technical team for this project is made up of doctors Jaime Martínez-Harms, project director; Aart Osman and Jan Heinrich Bergmann.

In simple words, explains Dr. Jaime Martínez-Harms, project coordinator, “what we are going to do is determine the chemical identity of the volatile compounds that make up the floral aromas of avocado. To develop this attractant, the volatiles emitted by avocado flowers will be identified and the contribution of the different compounds in attracting wild pollinating insects will be determined ”.

Pollination is definitely a topic that Dr. Jaime Martínez is passionate about, who currently works as a researcher at INIA La Cruz, from where he promotes initiatives aimed at managing pollination in agricultural environments. One of the lines that he develops is related to the pollination of avocado. "The aroma of the avocado flower is a very particular and intense signal and we believe that these fragrances are essential in pollination by wild insects", explains the specialist.

It is estimated that in Chile there are about 30 thousand hectares planted with avocado, which means that 300,000 hives are required to meet the demand for pollination of this crop, which represents more than 50% of the total number of hives in our country.

From FIA, the project obtained its validation since the honey bee, Apis mellifera, is the most used species in the management of pollination in agricultural environments. However, the worldwide decline of their populations has alerted to the need to consider alternatives that help to ensure these ecosystem services. Various studies have shown that increasing the diversity of wild pollinators and their associated native flora would have a positive impact on crop yield. This indicates that the development of methodologies that allow managing the services provided by wild pollinators could ensure and even improve the yield of crops in our country. Avocado is a crop highly dependent on the action of pollinators to form fruits.

At present, avocado pollination is managed by incorporating honey bees into orchards at a ratio of 10 hives per hectare. It is estimated that in Chile there are about 30 thousand hectares planted with avocados, which means that to meet the demand for pollination of this crop, 300,000 hives are required, which represents more than 50% of the total number of hives in our country. Currently, several diseases affect the health of the honey bee in Chile, which has led to a reduction in national bee production comparable to that suffered in other parts of the world. Added to this is the evidence that indicates that bees would not be the most appropriate pollinator for avocado due to characteristics in their foraging behavior and because avocado nectar would be unattractive to these insects.

“This project addresses a current and growing productive problem in the national fruit industry given the growing deficit in the supply of beehives for pollination, which puts at risk the pollination process in fruit species of interest such as avocado. Since pollination is a cross-cutting problem and independent of the size of production, the proposal opens new opportunities to improve the productivity of avocado producers nationwide, which is equivalent to about 30 out of a thousand hectares planted between the regions of Coquimbo and the Liberator Bernardo O'Higgins. Due to this, the development of an artificial attractant aimed at increasing visits by wild pollinators to avocado flowers, combined with measures to increase the diversity of native flora in order to promote the presence of wild pollinators within orchards, is in line with a more sustainable agriculture by promoting a more abundant and beneficial pollinating fauna for biodiversity and the yield of avocado orchards ”, said Carolina Fuentes, FIA representative in the Metropolitan and Valparaíso regions.

Cadastre of native flora

The project is not only aimed at creating an artificial attractant that simulates the floral aromas of avocado, but also includes a strategy aimed at increasing the presence of wild pollinating insects that visit the avocado flower. For this reason, the innovation includes the realization of a cadastre of the native flora present in the geographical areas where avocado orchards are located in order to select native species that can serve as habitat for wild pollinators, providing a source of food and sites of nesting.

Likewise, the researcher adds, "we are going to replicate these vegetation formations to restore ecosystems to a certain extent in the places where the orchards are located."
As the specialist explains, increasing the diversity of native flora will increase the presence of wild pollinators within the orchard.

“When the vegetation zone is reduced, biodiversity declines and therefore discourages the visit of wild native insects. On the other hand, when the area of ​​natural vegetation near the orchard is rich and abundant in native species, the presence of pollinating insects increases, favoring the productivity of the orchard ”.

Essays

The volatile compounds emitted by avocado flowers will be captured in situ using methodologies that allow extracts of their aromas to be obtained. These samples will then be taken to the laboratory where the analyzes and correlations of how the aroma of the avocado flower is associated with the attraction of insects will be performed.

In each of the orchards, located in the province of Quillota and San Antonio, during the flowering period there will be face-to-face observations that will consist of the quantification of pollinators on the flowers; and, after the flowering period, a follow-up will be carried out.

Laboratory

The identification of the chemical compounds present in the floral bouquets will be carried out in the Laboratory of Chemical Ecology of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso directed by Dr. Jan Heinrich Bergmann. Meanwhile, in the Laboratory of Physiology and Plant Molecular Biology of INIA La Cruz in the Valparaíso Region, evaluations will be carried out to determine the electrophysiological response of native insects to compounds present in the avocado flower.

A technique called electroantennography coupled to gas chromatography will be used, which will be used to stimulate the antennae of insects and identify biologically active compounds. "Once you know what are the chemical compounds that stimulate the antennae of insects, you can perform behavioral experiments to see what is the best mix to attract insects," says Dr. Martínez.


 
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