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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

2018 Annual Report

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.

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.

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 covers the first year and eight months. Under Objective 1, we made significant progress to delimit five groups of moths and describe their species as per the milestones. Species problems were resolved and the current circumscriptions of the groups Sinoe, Diaphania, Eulepte, Leucosigma (Chytonidia), and Lophomyra were analyzed. Significant progress was made to elucidate the complex genitalic morphology of gelechiid moths through the use of 3D imaging and the study of Pseudochelaria in North America. Transcriptome data of noctuid moths and dragonflies were investigated, new groups of noctuid moths were used as a model to study wing pattern evolution, and data for macro-moths associated with Northeastern North American coastal plains were published. Collaborative research on braconid parasitoids of Costa Rican crambid moths was published. Moths and their larvae exhibit great host and habitat diversity and as part of our objectives, we also studied and published results on moths that feed on orchids and ferns; moths that live in bird nests and water; maple-feeding leaf miners; Old World Climbing fern feeders in the Everglades investigated for biological control purposes; a new host plant family for the destructive navel orangeworm; and destructive sugar cane borers, their parasitoids, and potential control measures. Transcriptomes of two species of Papaipema were published, one a fern-feeder and another a grass-feeder, the latter of which also contribute to our fourth subobjective to circumscribe focal groups of grass-feeding specialists. We made substantial progress on our fourth subobjective by refining our data queries and circumscriptions of grass-feeding focal taxa to test specific patterns. These include whether primary diet shifts correspond to boundaries of species groups within genera of pyraloids and noctuids, and whether major expansions of diet breadth across tribes of grasses correspond to other changes in behavior or life history among moth genera. 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 2018 we provided over 1300 URGENT identifications submitted by U.S. ports for rapid identification and action on their part.

1. 3D modeling for invasive moth identifications. The identity of an organism is the most crucial piece of information needed to determine any control or quarantine action related to a potential economically important or invasive organism. The Apple groundling moth is a minor pest of apples and pears and widely distributed in western Europe. It is a potential invasive species because its range has expanded east to China, but it is not yet known to have reached North America. An ARS researcher located at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution), Washington, D.C., used a free, open-source software to produce 3D models of structures from the apple groundling moth for quicker, more accurate identifications. The resulting models can be rotated in space, animated, and shared digitally all over the world to build a catalog for the identification of exotic and potential invasive moths in the United States.

Review Publications
Lara-Villalon, M., Vanoye-Eligio, V., Solis, M.A., Sanchez-Ramos, G., Chacon-Hermandez, J. 2017. The navel orangeworm, Amyelois transtilla (Walker) (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) discovered in northeastern Mexico feeding on Sapindaceae. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington. 119(4):601-604.
Stonis, J.R., Remeikis, A., Diskus, A., Solis, M.A. 2017. The American species of the genus Glaucolepis Braun, 1917 (Neotrifurcula van Nieukerken, syn. nov.) (Lepidoptera: Nepticulidae). Zootaxa. 4338(3):489-506.
Solis, M.A., Harms, N.E., Philipps-Rodriguez, E., Scheffer, S.J., Lewis, M.L., Metz, M. 2018. Aquatic larval immatures of two acentropines, Usingeriessa onyxalis (Hampson) and Oxyelophila callista (Forbes) (Lepidoptera: Crambidae). Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington. 120(1):180-195.
Feindt, W., Oppenheim, S., Goldstein, P.Z., Desalle, R., Hardrys, H. 2018. Transcriptome profiling with focus on potential key genes for wing development and evolution in Megaloprepus caerulatus, the damselfly species with the world´s largest wings. PLoS One. 13(1):17.
Goldstein, P.Z., Nelson, M.W., Simmons, T., Raleigh, L. 2018. Historical and ecological insights from a relictual sandplain: reexamining the insular moth fauna of Martha’s Vineyard (Dukes County, Massachusetts, USA). Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington. 120(1):57.
Metz, M., Janzen, D.H., Hallwachs, W. 2017. Descriptions of four new species of Struthoscelis Meyrick (Lepidoptera: Oecophoridae: Oecophorinae), one from Area de Conservación Guanacaste, northwestern Costa Rica, providing the first known biology for the genus. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington. 119(3):442-458.
Oppenheim, S., Desalle, R., Goldstein, P.Z., Feindt, W. 2018. De novo characterization of two transcriptomes from North American Papaipema stem-borers (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Insect Molecular Biology. p. 17.
Schachat, S.R., Goldstein, P.Z. 2018. Acronictinae (Lepidoptera: Macroheterocera: Noctuidae) demonstrate the variable role of wing venation in the evolution of the nymphalid groundplan. Insect Systematics and Diversity. 2(2):1-15.
Sharkey, M.J., Meierotto, S., Chapman, E., Janzen, D.H., Hallwachs, W., Dapkey, T., Solis, M.A. 2018. Alabagrus Enderlein (Hymenoptera, Braconidae, Agathidinae) species of Costa Rica, with an emphasis on specimens reared from caterpillars in Area de Conservación Guanacaste. Contributions in Science. 526:31-180.
Solis, M.A., Neunzig, H.H. 2017. A new phycitine moth (Vorapourouma basseti, Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) from Panama feeding on Pourouma Aubl. (Urticaceae). Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington. 119(3):464-470.
Solis, M.A., Pratt, P.D., Makinson, J., Zonneveld, R., Lake, E.C. 2017. Another new Lygodium-boring species of the musotimine genus Siamusotima (Lepidoptera: Crambidae) from China. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington. 119(3):471-480.
Vargas, G., Latra, L., Ramirez, G.D., Solis, M.A. 2018. The Diatraea complex (Lepidoptera: Crambidae) in Colombia’s Cauca River Valley: identity, distribution, and parasitoids. Neotropical Entomology. 47:395-402.