Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Conservation Increases Chocolate Production

A chocolate company is teaming with researchers at James Cook University to explore how native animals could increase cocoa production while reducing insecticide use in tropical forests near Daintree National Park.

The transformation from cocoa flowers to fruit pods that contain cocoa beans relies on small midges that develop in decomposing organic matter, such as fallen cocoa fruits. However, the fruits on a working farm are harvested and removed, limiting the amount of habitat available for the midges to grow.

The use of insecticides can also harm the midges, so Masters student Samantha Forbes and Dr Tobin Northfield are investigating how native insect predators such as green ants, spiders and skinks can control pests in the cocoa farms.

One of the methods under investigation is to provide fruit husks left over from production as habitat for the midges. The husks may also provide habitat for native insect and skink species.

The researchers have been surprised by the biodiversity that exists within the cocoa farms managed by Daintree Estates Chocolate.

“It will take some time to develop the methods, but there are excellent opportunities to balance biological conservation and food production in cocoa farms,” Northfield said.