A new collaboration project is now underway which brings the expertise of the Fraunhofer Chile Research Foundation and the Bayer Bee Care Center together again in central Chile, looking at how pollination services contribute to crop productivity in avocado. Dr Juliana Jaramillo, scientist at the Bee Care Center travelled to the country to get a first-hand look at how everything was shaping up. “The project looks at avocado pollination services in a holistic manner, understanding the role that the natural surrounding vegetation, the landscape and crop conditions have on the quality and quantity of produce,” she explains. Avocado plants are highly dependent on insect pollination to set the fruit, which is prized the world over as a highly nutritious source of many vitamins and minerals. While honey bees, brought in to provide pollination services clearly play a key role, there is very little known about the contribution that wild, native pollinators make in ensuring a good harvest for the avocado growers.
The project will assess three large avocado orchards and their surrounding landscapes in central Chile over a two year period. Researchers – including a PhD. student, Laura Perez, from the University of Chile - will look at the potential impact of landscape and surrounding vegetation on bee pollination services, improving the understanding of pollinator ecology for the crop and, identifying ways to help growers maximize yields.
So why avocado? This crop is an important commodity for the Chilean economy where around 50% of the production, some 127,755 tons, was registered for export in 2016. Currently, around 26,000 hectares of agricultural land in Chile is dedicated to commercial avocado orchards, the fifth largest area for crop cultivation behind table grapes, walnuts, apples and cherries in the country.
Concluding, Sharon Rodriguez from the Fraunhofer Chile Research Foundation adds, “This is one of the first such projects to combine research to understand the crop-pollinator dynamics alongside the socio-economic benefits of improving crop yield. We hope it will bring benefits for bees, the environment and growers alike.”