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Mixed mating strategies and pollination by insects and wind in coconut palm (Cocos nucifera L. (Arecaceae)): importance in production and selection

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1 Coconut is one of the most important tropical crops. It is threatened by Lethal yellowing disease. Production and selection by breeding require pollination, yet little is known of the pollination requirements and breeding system of this palm.

2 This study was carried out from 1999 to 2001 in coconut plantations represented by five coconut ecotypes commonly found in Mexico. It is the first study in the Neotropics on pollination and the breeding system of this palm.

3 Hymenoptera were the most numerous and diverse visitors to coconut flowers. The greatest period of insect abundance occurred during the rainy season (July to October). Insect abundance on the flowers correlated highly and positively with precipitation.

4 The abundance of visitors to pistillate flowers did not vary with season but there were significant differences between palm ecotypes; the most insect-visited flowers were of the Atlantic Tall ecotype.

5 The introduced honeybee (Apis mellifera) had the most appropriate foraging behaviour, visiting both pistillate and staminate flowers. These insects were probably the most efficient pollinators as they carry pollen on their ventral surface. Ants were present on flowers day and night but had no effect on pollination.

6 Pollination experiments indicated a mixed mating strategy: self-pollination by geitenogamy produced almost 19% of the fruit set, but cross-pollination (xenogamy) was the most important contribution (c. 30%). Anemophilous cross-pollination only accounted for 10% of fruit set, whereas entomophily became the most important pollination mechanism under Yucatan conditions.

7 As coconut palm grows naturally on the oceanic strand in a wide variety of seasonal conditions of wind and rain, we suggest that they may have evolved pollination, breeding and mating systems that ensure fruit production under a wide variety of conditions, while maximizing the probability of cross-pollination.

Keywords: Apis mellifera; Mexico; Yucatan; coconut palm; mating strategy; pollination

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Departamento de Recursos Naturales, Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán, Ap. Postal 87, Cordemex 97310, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, 2: Departamento de Ecología, FMVZ, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Ap. Postal 4-116 Itzimná, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico and 3: Department of Environmental Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada

Publication date: May 1, 2004


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