Skip to main content
ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Systematic Entomology Laboratory » Research » Research Project #432128

Research Project: Systematics of Moths Significant to Biodiversity, Quarantine, and Control, with a Focus on Invasive Species

Location: Systematic Entomology Laboratory

2017 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
The order Lepidoptera, specifically moths, represents one of the greatest radiations of herbivorous animals on the planet. The research component of this plan focuses on the most economically important groups of moths. Gaps in our knowledge of morphological, biological, and molecular characters, and the paucity of phylogenetic analyses, within many groups in these families combine to slow progress on the development of identification tools for use in pest detection, exclusion, and management, and in the successful implementation of biological control projects. The primary focus of this plan is to remedy some of those shortcomings by making available to a broad audience tools, databases, and images that will facilitate identifications and research over a wide range of economically important groups of moths. Within the Lepidoptera specific taxonomic groups are selected for revision based on specific expertise, the need for revisionary work, and the relevance of the group to American agriculture. This project also includes a service component that draws upon SEL experts to identify specimens for regulatory agencies (often on an urgent basis) and other research agencies and stakeholders, and to maintain and enhance portions of the National Insect Collection. Over the next five years, we will be addressing the following objectives: (1) conduct integrative taxonomic research that wherever possible incorporates larval and molecular data, in addition to adult data, to determine and circumscribe species and manage associated information, as follows: recognize and describe new and/or cryptic species; develop identification keys and illustrations; refine hypotheses of relationships to be reflected in classification; track distributions, and investigate regional host use and specificity of moths that are pests, potential pests, invasive species, and/or species beneficial to U.S. agriculture of Pyraloidea, Gelechiinae, Noctuoidea, and grass-feeding patterns in moths; (2) manage and enhance via fieldwork appropriate segments of the U.S. National Insect Collection to enable morphological and molecular research, mine the associated distributional and biological data for comprehensive databases, and provide identifications as needed; and (3) provide expert/authoritative identifications and generate research associated with specimens submitted by ARS researchers and other stakeholders or intercepted at U.S. ports by APHIS, Homeland Security, and state departments of agriculture for early detection of potentially invasive or novel pests.

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
This project will undertake research on a number of economically important plant feeding moths. We will generate morphological, molecular (DNA sequences), and biological characters that will be used to test species concepts and hypotheses of relationship among agriculturally important moths. These data also will be used to develop new diagnostic tools (descriptions, images, illustrations, keys) to permit more rapid and accurate identifications. Databases containing scientific names, distributions, taxonomic literature, and host plant and specimen data pertaining to economically important moths will be expanded and disseminated to the user community. These and other taxonomic tools will be made accessible to the public via publications, the internet, and other electronic media. Timely and accurate identifications of moths will be provided, including those intercepted at ports-of-entry by APHIS-PPQ or submitted by a wide range of scientists and regulatory agencies. Portions of the National Insect Collection at the National Museum of Natural History, a vital tool for research and identification, will be maintained and enhanced via fieldwork.

3. Progress Report:
Progress was made on all four objectives and their subobjectives, all of which fall under National Program 304, Crop Protection and Quarantine, Component 1, Systematics and Identification, especially Problem Statement 1A where efforts focus on the identification of insects that are pests or potential pests of the Nation’s crops and natural ecosystems, as well as exotic insects that could be used as enemies or show potential as biological control agents of invasive plants. This report documents progress for Project Number 8042-22000-294-00D Systematics of Moths Significant to Biodiversity, Quarantine, and Control, with a focus on Invasive Species. This project began recently, in December 2016 and this progress report therefore covers its first six months. Under Objective 1, we made significant progress to delimit three groups of moths and describe their species. Species problems were resolved and the current circumscription of the groups, Sinoe, Boalda¸ and Desmia, were reanalyzed. Transcriptomes of two species of Papaipema were assembled and annotated, one a fern-feeder and another a grass-feeder, which also contributes to our fourth subobjective to circumscribe focal groups of grass-feeding specialists. We surpassed our projected fourth goal by completing the mining of three data sets, identifying preliminary patterns and formulating testable hypotheses, and presenting preliminary results in an invited presentation on invasive species. Research is currently underway related to the diversification of stem-borers in Africa. Our subobjectives of Objective 1 are closely tied to our Objective 2 to manage and enhance with fieldwork the U.S. National Insect Collection that we utilize for our research and identifications. The National Collections are also heavily utilized for Objective 3 to provide authoritative identifications to ARS researchers conducting research on moth pests or biological control of noxious weeds, and to APHIS and Homeland Security personnel for detection of invasive and novel pests. In 2017, we provided over 1300 URGENT identifications submitted by U.S. ports for rapid identification and action on their part.

4. Accomplishments
1. Profiling moth "cereal killers." The top ten cereal crops provide over three billion metric tons of food with a dollar value of over six hundred billion dollars worldwide, yet we know only a fraction of the moth species that cause varying degrees of crop losses. ARS scientists in Beltsville, Maryland, circumscribed focal moth groups and created a database of grass-feeding specialists. This database of moth biology and dietary profiles will enhance our ability to predict and respond to emerging pests and evaluate the safety of deploying host-specific herbivores for purposes of biological control.

Review Publications
Heikkila, M., Metz, M., Hallwachs, W., Janzen, D.H. 2017. Three new species of Rectiostoma Becker, 1982 (Lepidoptera: Gelechioidea: Depressariidae) from Area de Conservación Guanacaste, northwestern Costa Rica. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington. 119(1):47-62.

Joyce, A.L., Sermeno, J., Cervantes, L.S., Paniagua, M.R., Scheffer, S.J., Solis, M.A. 2016. Host plant associated genetic divergence of two Diatraea spp. (Lepidoptera: Crambidae) stemborers on novel crop plants. Ecology and Evolution. 6:8632-8644. doi: 10.002/ece3.2541.

Stonis, J.R., Diskus, A., Remeikis, A., Davis, D.R., Solis, M.A., Cumbicus, T. 2016. The first record of Baccharis L. (Asteraceae) as a host-plant genus for Nepticulidae (Lepidoptera), with description of new Stigmella species from South America. Zootaxa. 4136:101-128. doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.4136.1.4.

Zawadneak, M.C., Barboza, G.R., Chapaval, P.I., Schuber, J.M., Santos, B., Poltronieri, A.S., Solis, M.A. 2016. First record of Duponchelia fovealis (Lepidoptera: Crambidae) in South America. Idesia. 34:91-95. doi:10.4067/S0718-34292016000300011.

Goldstein, P.Z. 2017. Review of the enigmatic genus Boalda with transfer of pulcherrima Köhler from Nephelistis and description of a new species. Zootaxa. 4276(1):139-144.

Goldstein, P.Z., Nelson, M.W. 2017. Two psammophilic noctuids (Lepidoptera) newly associated with beach plum Prunus maritima: The Dune Noctuid (Sympistis riparia) and Coastal Heathland Cutworm (Abagrotis nefascia) in Northeastern North America. ZooKeys. 661:61-89.

Metz, M., Miller, D.R., Dickey, A.M., Bauchan, G.R., Ochoa, R., Skvarla, M.J., Miller, G.L. 2017. Rediscovering digitules in Aphidomorpha and the question of homology among Sternorrhyncha (Insecta: Hemiptera). ZooKeys. 4276(1):139-144.