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Ongoing project

eDNA analysis of plant-pollinator relationships to improve Hass avocado production in south-west Western Australia (PH19007)

Key research provider: Curtin University

What's it all about?

Inadequate pollination has been identified as one of the main contributors impacting fruit production in avocados, an issue experienced in south-west Western Australia where avocados typically produce large numbers of flowers but consistently yield low crops.

This project is using a method known as eDNA metabarcoding to determine which insect species and native plants are supporting successful avocado pollination. This approach uses small regions of DNA which have low intraspecific variation (that is, variation within a species) but high interspecific variation (that is, variation between different species), to allow for identification at the species level. By classifying pollinators and the plants upon which they rely, this research has the potential to identify and protect relevant co-plant species which support these economically important orchards.

This work will predominantly be undertaken by a PhD student at Curtin University and will work closely with the Hort Frontiers Pollination Fund project Managing flies for crop pollination (PH16002). The addition of eDNA methods to that project will provide greater insight into the important pollinators of avocados in south-west Western Australia.

A desktop review on the application of environment DNA (eDNA) in agriculture systems has been published, that discusses its current uses, limitations, and prospects. The paper is a valuable body of work for the avocado industry, as it provides the following:

  • Information on this novel survey method for growers, industry participants, governments, researchers, and others.
  • Completed a study comparing traditional (pan traps) and novel methods (eDNA metabarcoding and video footage) for surveying pollinators, to examine how current patterns of pollination and fruit set for ‘Hass’ avocado is generated by wild insects in South-West Western Australia.

The surveys conducted were necessary to assess insect diversity and the ecological services that they provide in food production systems, amidst the global decline of insects. The surveys relied on direct observations and collections that are often laborious and require specialised scientific expertise.

This study demonstrated that eDNA can be used to detect insect taxa from flowers and is a powerful alternative to traditional methods for identification of flower-visiting insects in natural and agro-ecosystems.