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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

2020 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. The new project plan is currently finishing up NP304 OSQR Review. This is a final report for 8042-22000-269-00D. In regard to Objective 1, during the entire project, ARS researchers in Washington D.C. (Smithsonian Institution), continued to produce a revisionary study of Oriental flea beetle genera and continued work towards a comprehensive LucID identification guide for the Oriental flea beetles. During the last five years, 28 research papers were published, 17 of them on the Oriental flea beetles. Among them is a monograph on the Oriental species of the hyper diverse genus Chaetocnema, which includes species that are known pests of crops and potential biological control agents of invasive weeds. Collectively, these works document about 200 Oriental beetle species (37 new to science) and 30 genera (six new to science). The resulting publications and database are critical to Animal Plant Health Inspection Service -Plant Protection Quarantine (APHIS-PPQ) and other regulatory agencies to prevent the spread of pest species into the U.S. and improve the use biological control agents. In addition to improving classification and taxon identification abilities, the following breakthroughs were made in understanding flea beetle’s natural history: (1) discovery of a previously unknown type of mimicry under which beetles have recurrently evolved a close resemblance to decoy objects of their own manufacture (i.e., their own feeding damage); (2) a description of a highly efficient "catapult" jumping mechanism inside the flea beetle’s hind leg. The mechanism propels beetles to a distance that is hundreds of times their body length and is highly effective defense against predators, particularly in combination with aforementioned mimicry. Both discoveries advance out understanding of evolutionary strategies used by beetle pests to avoid predation and help researchers to find effective measures to control them. Objective 2 has not seen progress during the past 4 years as it was terminated due to a scientist resignation. Progress was made in Objective 3. Over a five-year period the following objective and goal were proposed: determine the generic limits of at least two weevil groups 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 that will result in a predictive, improved classification based on evolutionary history. The phylogeny of Dryophthorinae was inferred for the first time based on a comprehensive sampling of major lineages of the group using two molecular markers. A manuscript describing the chronogram of Dryophthorinae will be submitted before the end of the fiscal year. Moreover, it includes analyses and discussion of host-plant use and preference, classification, and evolutionary age estimates for the group. The continued comparative assessment of the immature and adult forms, which includes the completed study of 99% dryophthorine larvae, will serve to morphologically diagnose major clades and provide an independent hypothesis of relationship. Discovery of new genera, species, and immature forms have been illustrated, described and incorporated into identification keys. In addition, the variability of Compsus auricephalus, a highly polymorphic North American entimine species, has been studied and will soon be published. 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 five years, 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 May 1, 2015 to May 20, 2020, 11,668 submitted lots containing 15,383 specimens were identified, including 6,779 “urgent” and 1,308 “prompt” and “rush” submittals for USDA-APHIS-PPQ of specimens intercepted on perishable commodities at the US. 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. Solving agricultural problems with artificial intelligence. Recent advances in natural language processing (NLP) and computer vision are now being applied to many agricultural problems. These techniques take advantage of big data sources such as text in libraries and images from field operations. However, these techniques are most powerful when combined with artificial intelligence (AI) and numeric sources of data in multi-modal pipelines. A team of ARS scientists from across the U.S. reviewed the current uses of AI with text and image data. They identified new research avenues for AI use with these data types to improve current research pipelines to solve agricultural problems. Furthermore, ARS scientists identified several current implementations of AI within the agency that include using image recognition to identify flower blooms. In addition, they identified a potential application of image recognition that uses arthropod images from natural history collections to prevent non-native arthropod pests from entering our borders. This use case has the potential to improve the protection of our agricultural resources from non-native pests, enhance species identification in speed and accuracy, and ultimately, save our country billions in dollars from agricultural resource loss.

2. Understanding “Catapult” motion mechanism of Pestiferous flea beetles. The flea beetles are plant feeders that belong to a hyper diverse group of about 9,900 species, many of which are serious pests and feed on crops destroying valuable plants costing millions of dollars annually. Most flea beetles live, feed and procreate on the upper leaf surface of their host plants, thus making them vulnerable to predators, including birds, ants and spiders. ARS researchers in Washington, DC in collaboration with entomologists, physicists, and engineers from University of Florida and various institutions in China described the apparatus hidden inside beetle hind leg that helps them to escape predation. The apparatus is a highly efficient "catapult", able to propel beetle at a distance hundreds of times its body length in an instance, with the acceleration that can reach 865 times the acceleration of gravity. This mechanism is amongst the key traits responsible for flea beetle’s remarkable species diversity and overall high evolutionary success that includes the ability to feed on a wide range of plants. The catapulting jump mechanism is so efficient, and yet simple, that it might find an excellent use in robotics, as well as in agricultural engineering and industrial installations. To test this hypothesis, a design of a bionic limb inspired by the studied beetles is proposed.

3. First pylogeny of the Palm Weevil subfamily. Among the major pests of palms are dryophthorine weevils, like the Red and South American Palm Weevils. The dryophthorine genera Rhinostomus, described in 1815, and Yuccaborus, described in 1874, of the subtribe Rhinostomina include species that may become serious pests of weak or stressed palms and yuccas, respectively. Rhinostomus barbirostris from South America can severely harm at least 10 species of palms. More than two hundred years after the discovery of the first genus in the group, ARS scientists in Washington, DC discovered a third genus that belongs to this group of palm and yucca borers. The new genus and species were previously unknown to science and measures more than an inch long, while living in the forests of Malaysia. The study also provided an updated identification key to the world genera of the tribe Orthognathini. As part of this study, the genus Yuccaborus was reinstated as a valid genus in the subfamily bringing further clarity to the natural composition of the group. The discovery of this new genus, which is closely related to known pests of palms and yucca, will better prepare and inform scientists, resource managers, port identifiers, and the general public to track, manage and control a potential new borer of palms and yuccas.

Review Publications
Ruan, Y., Xing-Ke, Y., Konstantinov, A.S., Prathapan, K.D. 2019. Revision of the Oriental Chaetocnema species (Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae, Galerucinae, Alticini). Zootaxa. 4699:1-206.
Huestis, D., Dao, A., Diallo, M., Sanogo, Z., Samake, D., Yaro, S.A., Ousman, Y., Linton, Y., Krishna, A., Veru, L., Krajacic, B., Faiman, R., Florio, J., Chapman, J., Reynolds, D., Weetman, D., Mitchell, R., Donnelly, M., Talamas, E., Chamorro, M.L., Strobach, U., Lehmann, T. 2019. Windborne long-distance migration of malaria mosquitoes in the Sahel. Nature. 28(4):6.
Konstantinov, A.S., Moseyko, A.G. 2019. A new species of Phyllotreta Chevrolat 1836 (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Galerucinae: Alticini) from Omsk region of Russia with comments of Phyllotreta species diversity in Northeastern Palearctic. Zootaxa. 4679(3):499-501.
Sokolov, I.M. 2019. A review of the genus Pelodiaetus Jeannel (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Anillini) of New Zealand, with re-description of the genus, description of a new species and notes on the evolutionary history. ZooKeys. 879:33-56.
Chamorro, M.L., Anderson, R.S. 2019. Vauricia howdenae Chamorro and Anderson, a new genus and species of Rhinostomina from the Oriental Region, with a key to World genera of Orthognathini (Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Dryophthorinae). The Coleopterists Bulletin. 75(4):875-883.
Whitehouse, R., Chamorro, M.L. 2019. Synthesis of known and new host plant records of the Fijian Ginger Weevil, Elytroteinus geophilus (Lucas) (Coleoptera, Curculionidae, Cryptorhynchinae) suggests a preference for starch-storing plant organs. Insects. 10(229):1-7.
Konstantinov, A.S., Linzmeier, A.M., Scheffer, S.J., Lewis, M.L. 2020. Moss-inhabiting flea beetles of West Indies I: New species of Borinken Konstantinov and Konstantinova and Kiskeya Konstantinov and Chamorro-Lacayo (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Galerucinae: Alticini) from Puerto Rico. Insecta Mundi. 0771:1-12.
Yongying, R., Konstantinov, A.S., Guanya, S., Jianing, W., Siqin, G., Xingke, Y. 2020. The jump of flea beetles (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Alticini): structures, mechanism and kinematics. Zootaxa. 915:87-105.
Konstantinov, A.S., Linzmeier, A.M. 2020. Suffrianaltica, a new genus of flea beetles (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Galerucinae: Alticini) form the West Indies. Journal of Insect Biodiversity. 17(1):1-11.
Linzmeier, A.M., Konstantinov, A.S. 2020. Moss inhabiting flea beetles (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Galerucinae: Alticini) of the West Indies II: Menudos, a new genus from Puerto Rico and description of methods to collect moss inhabiting flea beetles. Zootaxa. 4786(1):1-22.