There are all kinds of pollinators in an avocado orchard, not just honeybees. In fact, there is a whole range of native bees that also pollinate the trees. There are nearly 1,600 native bee species in California, and over 30 have been identified in avocado orchards in Ventura County alone .
Another pollinator group is comprised of the Diptera order – flies. This order includes hoverflies and houseflies. Flies can be better at cross-pollinating avocado than honeybees because they move randomly through an orchard between different cultivars, visiting male and female flowers. The effectiveness of flies as pollinators varies between species, but there can often be more than 20 types in an orchard. This means it is likely that some good pollinators will be present, and that pollination can occur whenever the female flowers are open.
In the aforementioned Ventura avocado study, hoverflies are the most common flower visitor.
Rae Olsson firstname.lastname@example.org 509-335-4846
PULLMAN, Wash. - A tiny bee imposter, the syrphid fly, may be a big help to some gardens and farms, new research from Washington State University shows.
An observational study in Western Washington found that out of more than 2,400 pollinator visits to flowers at urban and rural farms about 35% of were made by flies--most of which were the black-and-yellow-striped syrphid flies, also called hover flies. For a few plants, including peas, kale and lilies, flies were the only pollinators observed. Overall, bees were still the most common, accounting for about 61% of floral visits, but the rest were made by other insects and spiders.
"We found that there really were a dramatic number of pollinators visiting flowers that were not bees," said Rae Olsson, a WSU post-doctoral fellow and lead author of the study published in Food Webs. "The majority of the non-bee pollinators were flies, and most of those were syrphid flies which is a group that commonly mimics bees."
Syrphid flies' bee-like colors probably help them avoid predators who are afraid of getting stung, but they are true flies with two wings as opposed to bees which have four. The flies might have additional benefits for plants, Olsson added, since as juveniles they eat pests like aphids. As adults, they consume nectar and visit flowers so have the potential to move pollen the same way that bees do, though it is less intentional than bees who collect pollen to feed their young.
For the study, the researchers surveyed plants and pollinating insects and spiders on 19 rural farms and 17 urban farms and gardens along the Interstate 5 corridor in Western Washington. They conducted surveys six separate times over two years. In addition to the visits by bees and syrphid flies, they also catalogued more rare visits by other arthropods including wasps, lacewings, spiders, butterflies, dragonflies, beetles and ants--all with visits of less than 4%.
Olsson first noticed the many different non-bee pollinators while working on a bee-survey project led by Elias Bloom, a recent WSU doctoral graduate. The results of this study underscore the need for researchers as well as gardeners and farmers to pay more attention to alternative pollinators, Olsson said, and hoped that similar studies would be conducted in other regions of the country.
"Bee populations are declining, and we are trying to help them, but there's room at the table for all the pollinators," Olsson said. "There are a lot of conservation and monitoring efforts for bees, but that doesn't extend to some of the other pollinators. I think people will be surprised to find that there are a lot more different types of pollinating insects - all we really need to do is to start paying a little more attention to them."
The study also noted pollinator differences between rural and urban spaces. Observations sites in urban areas showed a greater diversity of pollinators corresponding with the wider range of plants grown in city gardens and smaller-sized farms. Rural farms with their larger fields of plants had a greater abundance.
For every grower, urban or rural, who is interested in increasing the number and diversity of pollinators visiting their fields or gardens, Olsson recommended increasing the variety of flowering plants.
Making sure that something is flowering all throughout the season, even if on the edge of a field, will support the biodiversity of pollinators because their different life stages happen at different times of the year.
"Some pollinators like certain butterflies and moths are only present in a pollinating form for a small period of time," Olsson said. "They may only live for a few days as adults, so when they emerge and are ready to pollinate, it's good to make sure that you have something for them to eat."
Photo: Not a bee, a hover fly or syrphid fly
And doing it in the dark?
In a recent paper, David Pattemore and associates reveal some fairly different observations about avocado flowering. One, that the female stage can be open and potentially receptive to pollination at night. And Two, that moths and crane flies amongst other nocturnal insects are visiting the flowers and carrying pollen!!! These are two very new observations, made possible by the digital world we live in.
Of course, insect visitation doesn't mean fruit set. Is there pollination, transfer of pollen to the female stage? Is there enough pollen? Is it the right pollen? Is it the right temperature for fertilization to occur? Whatever else needs to happen for fruit set, is it happening?
But these observations are opening up new discussion topics for the avocado world.
LOW OVERNIGHT TEMPERATURES ASSOCIATED WITH A DELAY IN ‘HASS' AVOCADO (PERSEA AMERICANA) FEMALE FLOWER OPENING, LEADING TO NOCTURNAL FLOWERING
David Pattemore1,2*, Max N. Buxton1, Brian T. Cutting1, Heather McBrydie1, Mark Goodwin1, Arnon Dag3
1The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Limited, Ruakura Research Centre, Hamilton 3210, New Zealand
2School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
3Gilat Research Center, Agricultural Research Organization, 85280, Israel
Abstract—Avocado (Persea americana) has synchronously protogynous flowers: flowers open first in female phase before closing and opening the next day in male phase. Cultivars are grouped based on whether the flowers typically first open in female phase in the morning (type A), or in the afternoon (type B). However, it is known that environmental factors can alter the timing of flower opening, with cold temperatures being shown to affect the timing of flowering. The aim of this study was to investigate how low spring temperatures in New Zealand affect the flowering cycle of commercial avocado cultivars, focusing primarily on the receptive female phase of ‘Hass', a type A cultivar. Time-lapse photography was used to assess flower opening times of ‘Hass' over three years. Decreasing minimum overnight temperatures were associated with a delay in the timing of ‘Hass' female flower phases and resulted in nocturnal flowering of both male and female phase flowers. We recorded insects visiting female flowers at night, and some nocturnal flower visitors collected were carrying avocado pollen. Our study suggests that nocturnal pollination needs to be considered for avocados grown in temperate regions. Furthermore, as the timing of the female phase of ‘Hass' varied significantly with overnight temperature, the activity patterns of potential pollinators need to be considered to ensure adequate pollinator activity across the range of times in which ‘Hass' flowers are receptive.
Eight different invertebrate orders were captured from avocado flowers at night. Coleoptera, Diptera and Lepidoptera were the most frequently caught floral visitors, but it was coleopteran, dipteran and neuropteran individuals that carried the greatest number of pollen grains on average. This is an important distinction to make, as not all floral visitors behave as pollinators: visitation does not necessarily infer pollination. Species such as Costelytra zealandica (Coleoptera), Micromus tasmaniae (Neuroptera), along with Tipulidae and Sylvicola species (Diptera) may be especially important, as these were both frequently caught and often carried a high number of pollen grains. Compared with diurnal pollination, nocturnal pollination is poorly understood and relatively little research in New Zealand has tested assumptions that nocturnal floral visitors can act as pollinators.
This is an interesting read and introduces further areas of pursuit to understanding what brings on fruiting in the wild avocado.
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Rhapsa scotosialis – a potential avocado pollinator?