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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Related Topics

Research Project: Systematics of Parasitic and Herbivorous Wasps of Agricultural Importance

Location: Systematic Entomology

2011 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
ARS is interested in performing research on the systematics and natural history of parasitic and herbivorous wasps to discover and describe new beneficial and pest species, facilitate their identification, understand and predict their impact on agricultural commodities and products, and disseminate biosystematic information on them to an international clientele. Our Project Plan has five objectives that relate directly to this agreement: (1) Evaluate and revise the Neotropical genera (~40) of Eurytomidae (Hymenoptera: Chalcidoidea), compile diagnostics and images for an identification key, and write descriptions of new taxa; (2) Document and analyze the world species (~20) of Symphya (Hymenoptera: Braconidae), write descriptions of new species, compile diagnostics and images for an identification key, and infer a phylogeny; (3) Document and analyze the world species (~80) of Diglyphosematini (Cynipoidea: Figitidae), write descriptions of new species, compile diagnostics and images for an identification key, and infer a phylogeny; (4) Develop web-accessible databases of natural history information and identification keys for parasitic and herbivorous wasps. Identify hymenopterans for USDA-ARS, USDA-APHIS, and other state and federal researchers and action agencies. Manage and provide access to parasitic and herbivorous wasps in the National Insect Collection at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History (NMNH); (5) Discover, describe, and prepare identification aids for parasitic wasps attacking stem-feeding insects in wheat in North America.


1b.Approach (from AD-416)
ARS will use the following methods for this research: High resolution digital images will be used to construct digital multi-entry taxonomic keys that can be viewed on the world wide web or cd-rom; DNA sequencing will be developed and employed for cryptic species identification; visit natural history collections and develop collaborations with other researchers to acquire wasp specimens; sample in the field to obtain wasp specimens and discover host plant-host-parasitoid relationships; acquire and analyze morphological data from specimens through light and electron microscopy; acquire and analyze genomic data from specimens through DNA extraction, amplification, and sequencing; compile and analyze matrices of morphological and molecular data to generate descriptions for wasp groups and species, hypotheses of evolutionary relationships, and identification tools (e.g., interactive keys); examine type specimens to correctly assign names to wasp groups and species; illustrate diagnostic characters through light and electron microscopy; compile biosystematic information (e.g., diagnostic data, images, host use) and deliver it to customers via open-access websites on the Internet. Identifications and biosystematic information for hymenopterans will be delivered to customers such as USDA-ARS, USDA-APHIS, and other state and federal researchers and action agencies using available literature and through comparison with specimens in the National Insect Collection.


3.Progress Report
Scientists described one new subfamily, three new genera, and nine new parasitoid wasp species and also reported two new plant-feeding hosts under this project in FY2011. Identification keys were disseminated for differentiating 12 subfamilies, five genera, and five parasitoid wasp species, and diagnoses were provided for differentiating three subfamilies, four genera and 12 parasitoid wasp species. Evolutionary relationships among five subfamilies, 10 genera, and 22 parasitoid wasp species were discerned through analysis of morphological features. Species treated included parasitoid wasps that attack phytophagous gall-inducing wasps on eucalypts and bean trees, plant groups that contain both invasive species and beneficial species important to agriculture and the timber industry. They also consisted of parasitoids that attack phytophagous gall-inducing wasps on beech trees, a plant group important to forestry and the timber industry. Research was published on parasitoid wasps belonging to groups known to attack wood-boring beetles and filth flies. Notably, a range extension was reported for a parasitoid wasp species known to attack synanthropic flies. The new record is from Canyonlands National Park in Utah, and this information increases knowledge of arthropod diversity and ecology in the western U.S. Further, the new record is available for land managers to consider when making decisions on land use.

Progress was made toward revising the Neotropical genera of Eurytomidae and monographing the world species of Symphya and Diglyphosematini, three groups containing parasitoid and plant-feeding wasps. Specimens of all three groups were acquired, morphospecies were delimited, and morphological characters were evaluated and scored. Specimen exchanges were established with collaborators worldwide for continued acquisition of specimens from all three groups.

Progress was made toward a survey of, and development of identification tools for, wasps parasitic on stem-feeding insects in wheat and wild grasses in the northern Great Plains of the U.S. Approximately 1,000 wasp specimens were acquired from collaborators in Montana and North Dakota. The specimens were reared primarily from wheat stem sawfly and Hessian fly. They have been prepared to acquire morphological and molecular data, and a subset was identified and imaged through light and scanning electron microscopy. A subset of the specimens was also sent to a collaborator for DNA sequencing, and protocols were tested, in conjunction with the collaborator, for non-destructive extraction of genomic DNA.

Scientists completed 590 identification requests from personnel with USDA-ARS, USDA-APHIS, other state and federal agencies, and public and private institutions. This resulted in identification of 3,273 specimens. Approximately 30 transactions (i.e., requests, returns, gifts, disposals) of specimens belonging to the National Insect Collection (NIC) were handled, including specimens loaned to scientists worldwide conducting research on parasitoid and plant-feeding wasps.


4.Accomplishments
1. Description of a new subfamily, two new genera, and three new species of parasitic wasps that attack plant-feeding hosts. Parasitic wasps attack agricultural and forest pests that cause billions of dollars of damage to crops and forests annually. They also attack beneficial natural enemies and are pests when they disrupt biological control. The species described principally attack wasps that feed on eucalypts and bean trees in Australia. Both plant groups contain invasive species in Africa and North America; it is critical to characterize the parasitic wasps associated with plants in those groups to understand how host-parasitic wasp interactions influence plant population dynamics. These wasps are also vital to understanding the evolutionary history of gall wasps. This research is useful to taxonomists, biocontrol workers, agricultural extension agents, and ecologists.

2. Redescription of a subfamily of parasitic wasps and descriptions of a new genus and three new species that attack plant-feeding hosts. Parasitic wasps attack agricultural and forest pests that cause billions of dollars of damage to crops and forests annually. They also attack beneficial natural enemies and are pests when they disrupt biological control. The species described attack wasps that feed on beech trees in South America, some of which are imported into the U.S. These wasps, along with data on related species, have the potential to help control the plant-feeding wasps, saving millions of dollars typically spent on pesticides. Further, these wasps are vital to understanding the evolution of plant- and insect-feeding habits in gall wasps and their relatives. This research is useful to taxonomists, biocontrol workers, agricultural extension agents, and ecologists.

3. Descriptions of two new parasitic wasp species with wing adaptations previously unknown for New World species. Parasitic wasps attack agricultural and forest pests that cause billions of dollars of damage to crops and forests annually. Both species likely attack wood-boring beetle larvae based on host use for related species. Their wings are strongly reduced in size, an adaptation known only for one other species in the genus from Europe. Discovery of these wasps and information on their natural history is necessary for understanding their role in regulating wood-boring beetle populations. Both were named, described, and differentiated from similar species. This research is useful to scientists conducting research on these wasps and their likely beetle hosts.

4. New distribution record of a parasitic wasp known to attack filth-feeding flies. Parasitic wasps attack pests of humans and livestock that cause billions of dollars in losses annually. The species treated attacks flesh fly maggots, a group that includes vectors of disease-causing agents and species that cause myiasis. The flies are also a nuisance to humans and livestock and can reduce production in livestock operations. Parasitic wasps help regulate populations of these flies, thereby reducing their impact on humans and livestock. A wasp known to attack these flies was reported from Utah for the first time. This research is useful to scientists conducting research on, and personnel seeking to control, flies associated with humans and livestock.


Review Publications
Buffington, M.L., Nieves-Aldrey, J.L. 2011. Revision of Plectocynipinae (Hymenoptera: Figitidae) with descriptions of three new species. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington. 113(2):91-108.

Kula, R.R. 2011. Two new brachypterous species of Heterospilus Haliday (Braconidae: Doryctinae) from the Nearctic Region. Journal of Hymenoptera Research. 21:53-64.

Paretas-Martinez, J., Restrepo-Ortiz, C., Buffington, M.L., Pujade-Villar, J. 2011. Systematics of Australian Thrasorinae (Hymenoptera: Cynipoidea: Figitidae) with a description of Mikeiinae, new subfamily, and two new genera and three new species. Invertebrate Systematics. 108:21-48.

Pech, L.L., Gates, M.W., Graham, T.B. 2011. The first state record for Dirhinus Texanus Ashmead (Hymenoptera; Chalcididae) from Utah, USA. Southwestern Naturalist. 56(2):275-276.

Last Modified: 7/27/2014
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