Tiny Thrips Have Big Role in Pollinating
By Hank Becker
February 14, 1997
The mahogany furniture in your home or office may have a little mystery in
Thats because little is known about how mahogany trees are pollinated.
But scientists with USDAs
Agricultural Research Service think
theyve uncovered an important clue.
Working with scientists at the University of
Florida at Gainesville, the ARS researchers have shown for the first time
how tiny insects called thrips may pollinate mahogany tree flowers. Some
species of thrips are insect pests of flowers, ornamentals and agricultural
crops, but a few are beneficial as predators of mites and insects and as
pollinators of crops.
ARS research identified five species of thrips that were the only insects
found in 12 to 59 percent of mahogany tree flowers collected from seven Florida
sites many miles apart. Pollen coated the insects bodies, providing the
first evidence that thrips species help cross-pollinate mahogany trees.
This discovery increases our understanding of how mahogany trees are
pollinated--information that could be used by scientists worldwide to breed
better mahogany trees. Further studies are needed to pinpoint the thrips
long-term effectiveness as pollinators.
West Indies mahogany trees are grown in Florida and in the U.S. Virgin
Islands for their valuable hardwood and as favored ornamentals along road
sides. In 1995, the United States imported 182,000 cubic yards of mahogany
lumber worth approximately $86 million.
Scientific contact: Sueo
Systematic Entomology Laboratory,
Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-6893