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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

2012 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 two new genera and 24 new species and also reported 34 new hosts under this project in FY2012. Identification keys were disseminated for differentiating 119 genera or species, and diagnoses were provided for differentiating 88 genera or species. Evolutionary relationships among five families, 12 subfamilies, >65 genera, and >66 species were discerned through analysis of morphological and molecular characters. Species treated included wasps that parasitize plant-feeding insects, including wood-borers and herbivores, as well as gall-inducing wasps that feed on plant tissue. In addition to research on the taxonomy, evolutionary relationships, and natural history of parasitic and plant-feeding wasps, the SYs reported on new techniques for preparing microscopic specimens for research purposes and storing them in natural history collections. They also reported, with colleagues, on the use of an online system for establishing a uniform set of terms and definitions to describe wasp, bee, and ant anatomy.

Progress was made toward revising the Neotropical genera of Eurytomidae and monographing the world species of Symphya and Diglyphosematini, three groups containing parasitic 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 212 wasp specimens were acquired from a collaborator in Montana. The specimens were reared primarily from wheat stem sawfly. They were prepared for acquisition of morphological and molecular character data and imaging through light and scanning electron microscopy. Images of entire adult wasps and particular anatomical features were acquired for developing paper-based and an online interactive identification keys. A framework for generating the interactive key was developed using the Lucid3 software program.

Scientists completed 234 identification requests from personnel with USDA-ARS, USDA-APHIS, other state and federal agencies, and public and private institutions. This resulted in identification of 1,009 specimens. Approximately 50 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 parasitic and plant-feeding wasps. Approximately 6,000 images were captured for ~1,500 wasp primary type specimens in the NIC for use in developing a searchable open-access Internet database of NIC primary type specimens and their associated data.


4.Accomplishments
1. Review of wasps and flies parasitic on slug caterpillars in North America. Parasitic wasps and flies attack slug caterpillars, and the mortality they induce mitigates damage the caterpillars cause to crops and forests. Parasitic wasps and flies were reared from slug caterpillars over a six-year period. Thirty-three new host records were reported. The male of one wasp species was redescribed, and the corresponding female was described for the first time. One wasp species was reclassified to increase taxonomic stability. A key was provided for identifying 17 genera. This research is useful to other scientists conducting research on these wasps and their hosts, as well as pest management and regulatory personnel responsible for controlling and limiting the spread of pest slug caterpillars.

2. Review of North American species in a tallgrass prairie for a family of parasitic wasps. Parasitic wasps attack insects that cause billions of dollars of damage to crops and forests annually. The wasps treated in this research attack wood-boring beetles, including pests such as emerald ash borer. Increased knowledge of these wasps can help maximize their impact on pests. This research provided information on identification, biology, and distribution of 24 species. Four species new to science were described, new distribution records were reported for eight species, four new synonymies were proposed, and 17 species were reclassified to increase taxonomic stability. This research is useful to other scientists conducting research on these wasps and their hosts, as well as pest management and regulatory personnel responsible for controlling and limiting the spread of pest wood-boring beetles.

3. Evolutionary patterns for a family of parasitic wasps. Gall wasps and their parasitic relatives can be either beneficial natural enemies or crop and forest pests. This research resulted in novel data on two lineages, and those data were used to infer their evolutionary origins. Additionally, this research explored the relative ages of all gall wasp lineages, using fossil dates to calibrate the analysis. The origin of gall wasps pre-dated their oak host plants by 60 million years. Also, the parasitic relatives of gall wasps arose at about the same time as their host flies, indicating that host specificity observed in parasitic relatives of gall wasps today is the result of the two groups evolving in concert. This research is useful to other scientists conducting research on gall wasps, their parasitic relatives, and their hosts.

4. Review of Eurasian and North African species with wingless and short-winged forms for a parasitic wasp family. Parasitic wasps attack crop and forest pests that cause billions of dollars of damage annually. The parasitic wasps treated in this research attack wood- and plant-feeding insects, including codling moth, a major pest of apple and pear worldwide. Increased knowledge of these wasps can help determine their impact as beneficial insects and potential use for biocontrol. This research provided information on the diversity, distribution, and identification of 45 wasp species. Seven species new to science were described, new distribution records were reported for seven species, and a key was provided for identifying 45 species. This research is useful to other scientists conducting research on these wasps and their hosts, as well as personnel responsible for controlling and limiting the spread of pest insects.

5. New species of parasitic wasps from Africa and an online interactive identification key for a family of parasitic wasps. Parasitic wasps are important natural enemies of pest and potential pest insects and have been used to control crop and forest pests. This research investigated a group of wasps native to Africa that parasitize wood -boring beetle larvae. It provided a better understanding of their evolution and elucidated species identities and distributions, information essential to biocontrol programs. Eleven new species were described, and interactive keys for 53 species were made available via the Internet. Digital color images were provided to facilitate identification. This research is useful to other scientists conducting research on this group of wasps and their hosts, as well as pest management and regulatory personnel responsible for controlling and limiting the spread of pest insects.

6. Description of a novel character system for species identification in a wasp superfamily. Gall wasps and their parasitic relatives can be either beneficial natural enemies or crop and forest pests. The occurence of individuals in this group that are identical morphologically but differ biologically hinders species circumscription and identification. Analysis of DNA sequences has helped with this problem, but researchers continue to search for morphological features for defining and identifying species. This research investigated wing interference patterns in 66 species. These patterns are similar to the rainbow effect observed when an oil film spreads across water. Four categories of wing patterns were discovered and used to outline methods for species identification. This research is useful to other scientists conducting research on this group of wasps and their hosts, as well as pest management and regulatory personnel responsible for controlling and limiting the spread of pest insects.

7. Description of a new genus and species of parasitic wasp and the first report of a true myrmecophilic (“ant-loving”) species in a particular wasp family. Parasitic wasps help control populations of pest ants and have been evaluated for potential use as biocontrol agents of ants. Certain tropical ants form nests in the canopies of citrus and coffee and often contribute to leaf loss or protect plant-feeding insects infesting those crops. This can lead to losses in crop productivity costing millions of dollars annually. The new genus and species was described and illustrated, and its host use was reported. Character diagnostics were discussed in the context of other species and groups of species in the family and also relative to more distantly related myrmecophilic wasps. This research is useful to other scientists conducting research on myrmecophilic wasps and their hosts, as well as pest management and regulatory personnel responsible for controlling and limiting the spread of pest ants.


Review Publications
Belokobylskij, S.A., Kula, R.R. 2012. Review of the apterous, micropterous, and brachypterous cyclostome Braconidae (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonoidea) in the Palearctic Region. Zootaxa. 3240:1-62.

Buffington, M.L., Brady, S.J., Morita, S.I., Van Noort, S. 2012. Divergence estimates and early evolutionary history of Figitidae (Hymenoptera: Cynipoidea). Systematic Entomology. 37:287-304.

Buffington, M.L., Sandler, R. 2012. The occurrence and phylogenetic implications of wing intereference patterns (WIP) in the Cynipoidea (Insecta: Hymenoptera). Invertebrate Systematics. 25:586-597.

Gates, M.W., O'Hara, J.E., Kula, R.R., Smith, D.R., Lill, J.T., Whitfield, J.B., Stoepler, T.M., Wahl, D.B., Murphy, S.M. 2012. Review of parasitic wasps and flies (Hymenoptera, Diptera) attacking Limacodidae (Lepidoptera) in North America, with a key to genera. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington. 114(1):24-110.

Kula, R.R., Marsh, P.M. 2011. Doryctinae (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) of Konza Prairie excluding species of Heterospilus Haliday. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington. 113(4):451-491.

Seltmann, K.C., Yoder, M.J., Miko, I., Forshage, M., Bertone, M.A., Agosti, D., Austin, A.D., Balhoff, J.P., Borowiec, M.L., Brady, S.J., Broad, G.R., Brothers, D.J., Burks, R.A., Buffington, M.L., Campbell, H.M., Dew, K.J., Ernst, A.F., Fernandez-Triana, J.L., Gates, M.W., Gibson, G.P., Jennings, J.T., Johnson, N.F., Karlsson, D., Kawada, R., Krogmann, L., Mullins, P.L., Ohl, M., Rasmussen, C., Ronquist, F., Schulmeister, S., Sharkey, M.J., Talamas, E., Vihelmsen, L., Ward, P.S., Wharton, R.A., Deans, A.R., Kula, R.R. 2012. A hymenopterist’s guide to the Hymenoptera Anatomy Ontology: utility, clarification, and future directions. Journal of Hymenoptera Research. 27:67-88.

Buffington, M.L., Simon Van, N. 2012. Revision of the Oberthuerellinae (Cynipoidea: Liopteridae). ZooKeys. 202:1-154.

Gates, M.W., Buffington, M.L. 2011. Description of two techniques to increase efficiency in processing and curating minute arthropods, with special reference to parasitic Hymenoptera. Entomological News. 22:133-140.

Gates, M.W., Perez-Lachaud, G. 2012. Description of Camponotophilus, gen. n. (Hymenoptera: Chalcidoidea: Eurytomidae), with discussion of diagnostic characters. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington. 114(2):111-124.

Buffington, M.L. 2012. Description of Nanocthulhu lovecrafti, a preternatural new genus and species of Trichoplastini (Figitidae: Eucoilinae). Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington. 114:5-15.

Last Modified: 8/22/2014
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