Small beetles, usually species of Nitidulidae, are the natural pollinators of atemoya (Annona squamosa L. x A. cherimola Mill. hybrids; custard apple) flowers but commercial atemoya growers often need to carry out labor-intensive hand pollination to produce enough high-quality fruit. Because Australian rain forest has plant species in the same family as atemoya (Annonaceae) and because many rain forest plants are beetle pollinated, we set out to discover whether tropical rain forest in far north Queensland harbors beetles that could provide this ecosystem service for atemoya crops. Orchards were chosen along a gradient of increasing distance from tropical rain forest (0.1–24 km). We sampled 100 flowers from each of nine atemoya orchards and determined the identity and abundance of insects within each flower. To assess the amount of pollination due to insects, we bagged six flowers per tree and left another six flowers per tree accessible to insects on 10 trees at an orchard near rain forest. Results indicated that atemoya orchards ≤0.5 km from rain forest were predominantly visited by five previously unrecognized native beetle pollinators that are likely to originate in tropical rain forest. These native beetles occurred reliably enough in crops near rain forest to have a positive effect on the quantity of fruit produced but their contribution was not great enough to satisfy commercial production needs. Management changes, aimed at increasing native beetle abundance in crops, are required before these beetles could eliminate the need for growers to hand pollinate atemoya flowers. Appreciation of the value of this resource is necessary if we are to develop landscapes that both conserve native biodiversity and support agricultural production.
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Vol. 98 • No. 4