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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Systematic Entomology Laboratory » Research » Research Project #429166

Research Project: Beetle Taxonomy and Systematics Supporting U.S. Agriculture, Arboriculture and Biological Control

Location: Systematic Entomology Laboratory

2017 Annual Report

Objective 1: Collect, document and classify Oriental flea beetle genera, analyze their morphological and molecular characters, and assemble characters of value for accurately identifying adults and establishing relationships (NP304, Component 1, Problem Statement 1A). Objective 2: Discover novel morphological and molecular characters for Neotropical longhorned woodboring beetle species and genera and develop new classifications, descriptions, and identification tools based on these discoveries (NP304, Component 1, Problem Statement 1A). Objective 3: Determine the generic limits in at least two weevil groups (palm weevils and citrus root weevils) through a combined analysis of DNA and morphology and develop fully illustrated revisions, identifications keys, and updated classifications and species catalogs based on these studies (NP304, Component 1, Problem Statement 1A). Objective 4: Provide identifications of beetles, including plant-feeders, wood-borers, and others of agricultural, economic and environmental importance (NP304, Component 1, Problem Statement 1A; Component 3, Subcomponent 3B, Problem Statement 3B1).

Research outlined in the plan will culminate in leading edge diagnostic tools that will allow partners and beneficiaries such as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the Department of Homeland Security, state departments of agriculture, foreign and domestic biological control labs, and researchers, colleagues, and citizens throughout the U.S. and abroad, to accurately identify beetle groups of exceptional importance (flea beetles, longhorned woodborers, and weevils). Accurate species determinations are critical for every biological and systematic study, especially since there may be regulatory actions based on the identifications or biosecurity implications (Gregory, et al., 2005). By broadly providing research outputs the public, teaching workshops, training other researchers, building government databases on invasive and native species, a potential benefit is to help prevent the spread of invasive species. Through these activities, the problem of declining systematic expertise described in the recent Federal Interagency Committee report on Invasive Terrestrial Animals and Pathogens (ITAP, 2008) will be addressed. Beetles important as control agents of weeds and plant pests will be identified and characterized so they can be used effectively by biological control workers. The wealth of new information prepared for poorly known groups of beetles will have a broader effect on other research on biology, ecology, and biodiversity of beetles. The products of the proposed research will include pictorial guides, keys to accurately identify flea beetles, longhorned woodboring beetles, and weevils, and catalogues and databases for these groups. Examples will include identification tools such as a field guide to the Cerambycidae of the Dominican Republic, LucID websites and keys (including Oriental flea beetles; longhorned beetle tribes), and revisions of beetle taxa, including Elaphidion (Cerambycidae), Monomacra (Chrysomelidae), Diaprepres and Compsus (Curculionidae). Other publications will be produced that focus on descriptions of new species of these groups from Asia and the Neotropical Regions. Still other publications will include catalogs (Dryophthorinae, Oriental flea beetle genera). This project will increase beetle representation in the U.S. National Insect Collection, help build the scanned resources as part of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, build photographic type specimen databases, and lead to regional species inventories and catalogs for use in conservation and management of native landscapes and natural habitats.

Progress Report
Progress was made in objectives all of which fall under National Program 304, Component 1, Systematics and Identification, Problem Statement 1A, Insects and Mites. In regards to objective 1, during the past year, ARS researchers in Beltsville, Maryland (Smithsonian Institution), continued to develop a revisionary study of Oriental flea beetle genera and continued work towards a LucID identification guide for the Oriental flea beetles. Essential morphological structures of flea beetles have been studied and partly illustrated and 7 genera with 11 species previously unknown to science have been discovered, described, illustrated, added to a LucID guide and Oriental flea beetle database. Additional funding was necessary to travel and collect material in unrepresented parts of Asia. These resulting publications and database are critical to APHIS-PPQ and other regulatory agencies to prevent the spread of pest species into the U.S. and better use biological control agents. Objective 2 has not seen progress during the past year as it was terminated due to a lead scientists resignation. In regards to objective 3, during the past year the phylogeny of Dryophthorinae was inferred based on a preliminary Bayesian analysis of 67 exemplar taxa representing all major putative lineages, except one from Africa and Southeast Asia, based on two molecular markers (18S and 28SrRNA, ~ 3700 characters) aligned using primary and secondary molecular structure. In partnership with the Laboratories of Analytical Biology at the National Museum of Natural History, at least five additional genes (nuclear-protein coding) were sequenced. To obtain fresh material for molecular and morphological studies and host-plant and biological information on Dryophthorinae, fieldwork was performed in Mozambique for a 3-week period. To provide a comprehensive, integrative approach towards inferring Dryophthorinae phylogeny, the immature stages of all known Dryophthorinae, 34 genera, were dissected and studied. Their morphological characters were imaging and coded. The first detailed morphological descriptions of immature stages for several genera are currently being published. The immature stages (usually the most destructive) of known pests of valuable commodities, such as vanilla, commercial orchids, and legumes were treated for the first time. To understand host plant associations of Dryophthorinae, ARS researchers in Beltsville continued to develop a database of host plant-weevil associations. This research will be instrumental towards making predictions about host-plant preferences for poorly known species; prioritize certain related taxa that based on phylogenetic data may prefer certain commodities/hosts; and provide guidelines towards developing targeted scrutiny of certain hosts/commodities based on origin and species relatedness. A list of potentially invasive dryophthorinae species was complied and submitted for publication. It was based on 20,377 weevil identification requests made to Systematic Entomology Laboratory over a 36 year period submitted mostly by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Agency (APHIS). These samples are the result of interceptions at US ports of entry nationwide and provide a rich source of comprehensive data necessary towards making these predictions. Thirty-two of the 148 genera and at least 89 species and subspecies of Dryophthorinae have been intercepted. This research helps to determine potential invasibility of Dryophthorinae, as well as to develop predictive models of a species’ invasive potential, understanding successful traits of invaders and gaining insight into possible vectors of invasives. Progress was made in objective 4, which falls under National Program 304; Component 3, Insects and Mites; Subcomponent 3B, Natural Ecosystems; Problem Statement 3B1, Early detection and prevention of both invasive and native insect and mite pests. During the past year, ARS researchers in Beltsville, Maryland (Smithsonian Institution), completed identifications of beetles, including those intercepted at all ports-of-entry into the U.S., and those submitted to the laboratory by universities and agricultural extension agencies, and entered the data in the Systematic Entomology Laboratory Identification System. Significant numbers of beetle identifications have been made. In the period from October 1, 2016 to June 10, 2017, 4,192 submittal lots (5,486 specimens) were identified, including 2,308 “urgent”, 1,884 “prompt and “routine” submittals for USDA-APHIS-PPQ of specimens intercepted on perishable commodities at ports of entry. “Urgent” identifications (those requiring same day turn-around of specimens intercepted on perishable commodities at ports of entry) have been processed daily as submitted. Obstacles to achieving this milestone include shortness of staff specialists to perform identifications, diversion of scientific staff to perform technical and IT functions due to loss of former positions, and loss of collaborating specialists who formerly handled regular lots for some groups. These identifications are critical to APHIS-PPQ, regulatory agencies, universities and state extension agencies.

1. Discovering and documenting biological diversity of leaf beetles. Leaf beetles are among the most important insects for U.S. agriculture as many are serious pests and feed on valuable crops costing billions of dollars in losses annually while others are important biological control agents that can be used to destroy invasive, noxious weeds. ARS researchers in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with Chinese and Indian scientists conducted field explorations in China and India and discovered seven leaf beetle groups (genera) previously not known to science, each comprising from one to four new species. These beetles possess biological traits that were previously unknown or poorly known among leaf beetles. Among them are the first and only known beetles feeding on primroses that could become pests if introduced in the United States where they have no natural enemies. Other beetles, discovered in Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama live inside ant nests contributing to complex ecosystems that are responsible for healthy tropical forests. These discoveries deepen our understanding of biology and diversity of agriculturally important leaf beetles and enhance our abilities to identify and control beetle pests and use leaf beetles as biological control agents of invasive weeds.

2. Identification resource for South American leaf beetles. The United States actively trades with Argentina and neighboring countries and the lack of taxonomic knowledge on the insect fauna presents a bio-security risk to our country. Knowledge of the beetle fauna of this region will help mitigate the risk posed by possible invasive species transferred through international commerce. ARS researchers at Washington, D.C., studied a large group of leaf beetles occurring in Argentina. This research resulted in the publication of the definitive resource on this group of beetles for the region, with associated illustrated diagnostic keys and an annotated species list for all 190 species and 31 genera, including their host plants and distribution. This study provides basic information about the leaf beetle fauna in Argentina that will facilitate in the accurate generic-level identification of this group and aid subsequent taxonomic revisions, and phylogenetic, ecological, and biogeographic studies. This information will also facilitate faunistic comparisons between neighboring countries.

Review Publications
Konstantinov, A.S., Tishechkin, A.K. 2017. Myrmeconycha new genus: the first myrmecophilous flea beetle (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Galerucinae: Alticini). Insecta Mundi. 0525:1-13.
Lingafelter, S.W., Tishechkin, A. 2017. Two new species of Parandrinae (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) in genera Parandra and Acutandra from South America. Zootaxa. 4272(3):401-410.
Prathapan, K.D., Yong-Ying, R., Konstantinov, A.S. 2017. Allenaltica, a new genus of flea beetles from the Oriental Region (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Galerucinae: Alticini). Academic Press. 5(5):1-9.
Agrain, F.A., Chamorro, M.L., Cabrera, N., Sassi, D., Roig-Junent, S. 2017. A comprehensive guide to the Argentinian case-bearer beetle fauna (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae:Camptosomata). ZooKeys. 677:11-88.
Yong-Ying, R., Konstantinov, A.S., Prathapan, K.D., Xing-Ke, Y. 2017. New contributions to the knowledge of Chinese flea beetle fauna (I); Gansuapteris new genus and Primulavorus new genus (Coleoptera; Chrysomelidae; Galerucinae). Zootaxa. 4282(1):111-122.
Tishechkin, A., Kronauer, D.C., Von Beeren, C. 2017. Taxonomic review of and natural history notes on the genus Ecclisister Reichensperger (Coleoptera: Histeridae: Haeteriinae). The Coleopterists Bulletin. 71:279-288.