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INIA La Cruz incorporates a pollination expert to its team

Chile: Pollination, a key factor in the production of avocados and greenhouse crops

Dr. Jaime Martínez-Harms will contribute to strengthening and generating new knowledge in the area of ​​pollination, a key factor in the production of avocados and greenhouse crops. 

Martinez-Harms, which will work at INIA La Cruz, was hired within the framework of Conicyt's Advanced Human Capital Attraction (PAI) Program, which seeks to promote the inclusion of doctors in the company to enhance the transfer capacity of technological scientific research centers or the productivity of the company.

The project, Strengthening of INIA's pollination research line through the study of sensory and cognitive biology of native and introduced pollinators to take management measures in agricultural ecosystems, will last two years (2018-2020). 

This initiative, stated Dr. Jaime Martinez-Harms, originated due to the concern there is regarding the bees' health and the need to look for alternatives to the honey bee to manage crop pollination. "Agriculture is experiencing an interesting change. It's going from an irrational use of pesticides to being more sustainable with the environment and human development."

Jaime Martinez-Harms holds a Ph.D. in natural sciences, a master's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, and a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. He said we was satisfied to face this challenge and willing to contribute in whatever way possible, based on his experience and knowledge about the ecological processes derived from the interactions between plants and animals.

Pollination is essential for the fruit's performance and quality. The project will study different wild pollinators, the biological interactions between living organisms that take place in agricultural ecosystems, and the signals that mediate these interactions. "I will be dedicated to studying the sensory biology of pollinators and characterizing floral attributes such as physical properties (color) and chemical properties (odors and flavors) that can induce pollinator attraction." My underlying interest, he said, "is to understand the evolutionary consequences of the relationships between pollinators and plants. To do this, it's important to understand the behavior and sensory biology of animals, that is, how they perceive the world."

The equipment of the Chemical Ecology Laboratory of INIA La Cruz, such as an antenna that is coupled to a gas chromatograph, will be of vital importance for this project.

Dr. Martinez has been trained in neurobiology and physiology through the use of electrophysiological techniques to study the olfactory and visual perception of insects and the characterization of chemical substances emitted by plants and insects through gas chromatography. Electrophysiological measurements, he said, "yield information about whether a particular animal is sensitive to the chemical compounds that are emitted by flowers." This data, he added, could allow us to train a pollinator to choose a mixture of scents and to know if it finds it more attractive than a second mix.

The avocado's level of dependence on pollination is vital in agricultural production and therefore to the food security of the world population.

The pollinating agent most used by avocado producers in the Valparaíso Region is the honey bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) and, in greenhouse crops, such as tomatoes, the bumblebees of the genus Bombus, where the Bombus terrestris species stands out.

Jaime Martinez-Harms said that increasing the pollination fauna would be beneficial for the biodiversity and yields of the avocado orchards, as it would contribute to the development of sustainable agricultural systems. Pollination helps increase, not only the production, but also the fruit's size and quality. Therefore, he stressed, "since they are related to agricultural yields, it is important to study the different pollinating agents."

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