Barcoding for chocolate - solving the cacao pollination puzzle using genetic tools

Project Details


Recent work has shown that increasing cacao pollination will lead to
higher production. However, current attempts to do so have remained
unsuccessful since the identity of the pollinator species involved in
the three global cocoa production areas remains controversial, and
the factors that determine their abundances unknown. This prevents
the development of effective management strategies to increase
pollination. In this project, we propose a new conservative approach
to confirm the identity of cacao pollinators. Due to the high cryptic
diversity, DNA barcoding is the only way to pin down which species
pollinate and find out where these reproduce.
During a pilot project in Central America, we have developed a DNA
database of ceratopogonid midges; the main pollinators of cacao. In
this project, we will expand this database by adding pollinators from
selected sites in South America, West Africa, and Indonesia to
generate a first global reconstruction of cacao pollinator diversity. We
will use the database to identify midges emerging from different
microhabitats in cacao plantations to confirm which of these breeding
environments have to be promoted using management to increase
pollination. Overall, this project uses a creative combination of
existing tools to tackle an important issue and will allow to clarify to
what extent the same management practices may help to increase
pollination in three different biogeographical realms.
Effective start/end date1/11/2131/10/23

Flemish discipline codes

  • Community ecology
  • Plant developmental and reproductive biology
  • Ecosystem services
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Silviculture and agroforestry


  • Pollination
  • cacao
  • DNA barcodin