Date of Graduation

7-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Entomology (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Entomology

Advisor

Ashley Dowling

Committee Member

Robert Wiedenmann

Second Committee Member

Erica Westerman

Third Committee Member

Neelendra Joshi

Keywords

apples, fruit crops, moths, muscadine grapes, peaches, pollinators

Abstract

Insect pollination in agriculture provides as much as 35% of the global food supply and contributes hundreds of billions of dollars to the global economy each year. In the past 30 years, reports of declining populations of managed and wild bees, notably the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) and a wide array of bumble bees (Bombus spp.), have raised concerns about the stability and outlook of agriculture. At the same time, agricultural dependence on insect pollinators is increasing as greater percentages of land being converted to pollinator-dependent crops, such as soy and oil palm, than pollinator-independent crops, such as grains and oats. Current knowledge of animal-mediated pollination in agriculture is focused on diurnal pollinators, with particular attention given to bees. Nocturnal insects, especially moths, represent a significant source of pollinator diversity, even greater than that of all diurnal pollinators combined. They are also well-known for their pollination services outside of agriculture. As such, these insects could offer valuable pollination services to agriculture, potentially providing additional stability and security to production. In this collection of works, I examine the roles of nocturnal-insect pollinators to fruit agriculture. The primary question was whether or not nocturnal pollinators offer any benefit to the production of selected fruits. I then examined which insects may be responsible for the observed pollination services. I found that nocturnal pollinators do not provide significant increases to the production peaches or muscadines. However, nocturnal pollinators significantly increased apple fruit set by comparison to a negative control, and nocturnal pollination levels were similar to those of diurnal pollinators. The most likely nocturnal pollinators were moths. These results are unprecedented and provide a new, potentially greatly underestimated, pollination system that demands immediate study.

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