Identification of pollinators of Artocarpus species
Pollination is one of the most important drivers of plant evolution. Artocarpus, a genus of more than 70 fruit trees in the mulberry family (Moraceae), provides a unique opportunity to answer important evolutionary questions about pollination while contributing to the development of valulable underutilized crops. Native to tropical Asia, Artocarpus contains both wild species and important crops such as breadfruit and jackfruit, as well as lesser known, but economically important crops like cempedak and terap. The mulberry family contains a variety of pollination mechanisms, from wind pollination to highly specialized pollinators, like those found in the fig wasp pollination syndrome. Artocarpus evolved in parallel to figs (Ficus) and provides an ideal system for the study of pollination evolution. Little is known about Artocarpus pollination, but what is known is intriguing. For example, while seedless breadfruit requires no pollination at all to set fruit, another species, cempedak, appears to be pollinated by tiny insects attracted to male flowers infected with a parasitic fungus that the pollinators use as a brood site. The pollinators are thought to be attracted to female flowers (not infected with the fungus) by scent.
This project will focus on a few Artocarpus species and analyze data from insect traps and pollination exclusion studies to determine if species are wind or insect pollinated. If insect pollinated, the study will focus on identifying putative pollinating species. Methods will include insect observations under a microscope, statistical analyses, and DNA extraction. Results will provide valuable information for cultivating these trees and will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of pollination systems.