Experimental evidence for stronger cacao yield limitation by pollination than by plant resources

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Janna Henrike Groeneveld
  • Teja Tscharntke
  • Gerald Moser
  • Yann Clough

Both pollination and resource limitation may cause low fruit:flower ratios in plants, but pollen and resource limitation have never been contrasted in commercially important crop species. Here we experimentally investigated the relative effect of pollen limitation and resource limitation in Theobroma cacao. In Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, we applied different relative levels of hand pollination (10%, 40%, 70% and 100% of available flowers up to 2. m height) to mature cacao trees in two separate experiments encompassing (1) different light (shade roofs) and nitrogen (fertilizer application) treatments, and (2) water availability (throughfall displacement) treatments. None of the resource availability treatments had a significant effect, while number of mature pods and yield increased non-linearly with pollination intensity up to 200% of current yield levels. The largest benefits were reached by increasing pollination from 10% to 40%, with non-significant increases beyond that level. Despite an increase of fruit abortion with pollination intensity, T. cacao yield is determined, at least on the short term, by the number of flowers pollinated. This suggests pollination deficit in crops can be very large and that a better knowledge of pollen and resource limitation to devise adequate pollinator management strategies may be critical for increasing production.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPerspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)183-191
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 08.2010
Externally publishedYes