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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

2021 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
The project was approved through OSQR review NP304 in November 2020. Please see the new in-house project 8042-22000-314-00D for the FY2021 annual report. The final report for 8042-22000-294-00D was submitted in FY2020.