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Tiny Thrips Have Big Role in Pollinating Mahogany / February 14, 1997 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Tiny Thrips Have Big Role in Pollinating Mahogany

By Hank Becker
February 14, 1997

The mahogany furniture in your home or office may have a little mystery in its history.

That’s because little is known about how mahogany trees are pollinated. But scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service think they’ve 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 Nakahara, USDA-ARS Systematic Entomology Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-6893

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