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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Systematic Entomology Laboratory » Research » Research Project #437869

Research Project: Systematics of Beetles, Flies, Moths and Wasps with an Emphasis on Agricultural Pests, Invasive Species, Biological Control Agents, and Food Security

Location: Systematic Entomology Laboratory

2021 Annual Report

Objective 1: Conduct research, using genomic and morphological data, on the hymenopteran superfamilies Cynipoidea, Chalcidoidea, Ichneumonoidea, and Platygastroidea by generating revised classifications, phylogenies, species concepts, natural history data and identification tools for these wasps. Coordinate all information generated to benefit all stakeholders, both nationally and internationally. [NP304, C1, PS1A; C2, PS2B; C3, PS3A and 3B] Objective 2: Curate and increase through fieldwork major segments of the U.S. National Insect Collection to be used for morphological and molecular research by U.S. scientists and stakeholders worldwide. This singular collection is a dynamic database geared toward research, which, in turn, enhances insect diagnostic capacity. Objective 3: Provide accurate and rapid identifications of Hymenoptera for APHIS PPQ, ARS researchers, and stakeholders across the United States. This necessarily depends heavily on generation of novel research products and ongoing enhancement of the National Insect Collection. [NP304, C1, PS1A; C2, PS2B; C3, PS3A and 3B]

Parasitoid and phytophagous wasps (Hymenoptera) are a species-rich and biologically diverse group of insects critical to managing pests of agriculture and natural resources. Of the various types of natural enemies, parasitoid wasps are most frequently used to control pest insects. Phytophagous wasps include plant pests and species used to control weeds. We propose to acquire and analyze morphological and molecular character data (and other biosystematic and natural history data) for beneficial and pest chalcidoid, ichneumonoid, and cynipoid wasps to (1) discover and describe new taxa, as well as discover and report new natural history data; (2) generate phylogenies to estimate evolutionary relationships and dates of divergence for lineages, and predic host range for species; (3) propose new taxonomic concepts based on hypotheses of evolutionary relationships and make corresponding nomenclatural changes; (4) redescribe taxa to reflect changes in how they are defined or report new diagnostic character states; and (5) develop tools for identifying taxa. The aforementioned will be generated through phylogenomic research on Chalcidoidea, Ichneumonoidea, Ceraphronoidea, Platygastroidea and Cynipoidea, resulted in revised classifications and species delimitations. We also propose to (1) increase access to the National Insect Collection through digitizing the Hymenoptera type collection and providing that data online, as well as the Hymenoptera ethanol collection; (2) provide authoritative identifications of hymenopterans for USDA-ARS, USDA-APHIS, and other state and federal researchers and action agencies; and (3) curate selected wasp groups in the National Insect Collection (NIC) at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History (NMNH).

Progress Report
Objective 1: Phylogenomic research on hymenopteran relationships. Subobjective 1A. Phylogenomics of Cynipoidea. Milestones for this objective were fully met. The National Insect Collection of the Smithsonian Institution has one of the most comprehensive cynipoid wasp collections globally. Consequently, specimens needed for this phase of the project were readily accessible. Further, UCE phylogenomic data can be generated from older specimens, making sampling from the pinned insect collection ideal. Additional specimens from APHIS interceptions from around the world were also used. All specimens were either identified already by previous experts or by Buffington. Body parts, typically legs, were removed for DNA extract; the remainder of the specimen was used for vouchering purposes. All label data are recorded into spreadsheets for specimens and data tracking . Subobjective 1B. Phylogenomics of Eurytomidae. Milestones for the subjective are partially met. All taxa included in this analysis have been acquired from recent collections, the National Insect Collection, or international collaborators. All have been extracted and are in the library preparation phase currently. Vouchered material is databased and uniquely labeled with a Q.R. code to facilitate subsequent location in the collection. This information will ultimately migrate into the EMU database at the museum level. Subobjective 1C. Phylogenomics of Braconidae. Milestones for this objective were fully met. The NIC is the most comprehensive braconid wasp collection in the New World. All specimens for this phase of the project were already available at the NIC. Because high-quality UCE phylogenomic data can be generated from older specimens, data were obtained almost exclusively from pinned braconids in the NIC. In most cases, entire specimens were used to extract DNA, resulting in the destruction of the genomic specimen; conspecific specimens from the same collecting event when possible were used for phenotypic vouchering. Data from all labels associated with specimens from which DNA data were obtained were recorded into spreadsheets for specimen and data tracking. Objective 2: Curation. Part of this objective was not met due to the National Museum of Natural History experiencing a moratorium in transactions due to COVID restrictions. However, we were successful in transitioning the Hymenoptera Unit imaging station to our Beltsville, Maryland, lab where we continued the Hymenoptera Type Specimen imaging project. To date, all pinned Hymenoptera-type specimens have been imaged, and the last of the slide-mounted type specimens are currently being imaged. Objective 3: Identification. The third objective of the project was to provide expert Hymenoptera identifications and curatorial services in the NIC. We identified 2604 specimens representing 960 lots, including 365 specimens/lots that required urgent identification. Notably, the SEL Hymenoptera Unit cleared out its backlog of identification lots in preparation for taking a primary database off-line. Further, ‘urgent’ identifications were largely completed digitally based on images. Collectively, we are hopeful this new form of digital submission continues for certain Hymenoptera, as the identification turnaround time is profoundly shorter than if physical specimens are sent.

1. Researching taxonomic and bionomic data on wasps helps protect U.S. agricultural interests. Parasitic wasps attack beneficial natural insects and cause billions of dollars of damage to crops and natural resources annually. ARS researchers at Beltsville, Maryland, focused on some 200 various species of parasitic wasps that attacks stink bugs that eat major food crops in the U.S.; flies that eat strawberry and blackberry, and other fruits; herbivorous and wood-boring insects in U.S. forests that feed on trees and kill them; plant-feeding insects in grasslands adjacent to crop fields; invasive spiders in Europe, and fire ants that disturb livestock. Along with clarifying identification, new biological attributes and host records were discovered for wasps important to agriculture and natural resources. Correct identification of biological control agents and an understanding of their biological role in mitigating pestiferous species populations is essential for making rearing and quarantine decisions in the protection of U.S. agricultural interests worldwide. Lastly, a joint project with other scientists in Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC, has resulted in the first complete phylogenomic analysis of Hymenoptera relationships, as well as more thorough analyses within superfamilies. This big data project includes over 4000 species of Hymenoptera, and 210,000 base pairs of data, requiring super computers to analyze. These data are currently being prepared for major publication outlets.

Review Publications
Abram, P., Mcpherson, A.E., Kula, R.R., Hueppelsheuser, T., Thiessen, J., Perlman, S.J., Curtis, C.I., Fraser, J.L., Tam, J., Carrillo, J., Gates, M.W., Scheffer, S.J., Lewis, M.L., Buffington, M.L. 2020. New records of Leptopilina, Ganaspis, and Asobara species associated with Drosophila suzukii in North America, including detections of L. japonica and G. brasiliensis. Journal of Hymenoptera Research. 78:1-17.
Gates, M.W., Zhang, Y., Buffington, M.L. 2020. The great greenbriers gall mystery resolved? New species of Aprostocetus (Hymenoptera: Eulophidae) gall inducer and two new parasitoids (Hymenoptera: Eurytomidae) associated with Smilax in southern Florida, USA. Journal of Hymenoptera Research. 80:71-98.
Ruiz-Montiel, C., Gonzalez-Perez, J., Valdez-Carrasco, J., Lomeli-Flores, J., Gates, M.W., Franco-Mora, O., Castaneda-Vildozola, A. 2021. Prodecatoma diospyri Muesebeck (Hymenoptera: Eurytomidae) reported in Mexico; new distribution records and damage description on black sapote fruits. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington. 123(2):437-442.
Lue, C., Buffington, M.L., Scheffer, S.J., Lewis, M.L., Driskell, A., Jandova, A., Kimura, M., Carton, Y., Kula, R.R., Schlenke, T., Mateos, M., Govind, S., Varaldi, J., Guerrieri, E., Giorgini, M., Wang, X., Hoelmer, K.A., Daane, K., Abram, P., Pardikes, N., Brown, J., Thierry, M., Poirie, M., Goldstein, P.Z., Miller, S., Jiggins, F., Tracey, A., Davis, J.S., Wertheim, B., Lewis, O.T., Leips, J., Lindsey, A., Staniczenko, P., Hrcek, J. 2021. DROP: Molecular voucher database for identification of Drosophila parasitoids. Molecular Ecology. 1-18.
Buffington, M.L., Garretson, A., Kula, R.R., Gates, M.W., Carpenter, R., Smith, D., Kula, A. 2020. Pan trap color preference across Hymenoptera in a forest clearing. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata. 169(3):298-311.
Johnson, T.D., Buffington, M.L., Gates, M.W., Kula, R.R., Talamas, E. 2021. Deployment of aggregation-sex pheromones of longhorned beetles (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) facilitates the discovery and identification of their parasitoids. Journal of Chemical Ecology. 47:28042.
Lill, J., Weiss, M.R., Block, C., Kula, R.R. 2021. Larval parasitism of the silver spotted skipper, Epargyreus clarus (Cramer) (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae) in the Washington D.C. area. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington.
Nieves-Aldrey, J., Nicholis, J., Tang, C., Melika, G., Stone, G., Pujade-Villar, J., Buffington, M.L., Maldonado, Y., Medianero, E. 2021. Re-description and systematic re-appraisal of the genus Kokkocynips Pujade-Villar & Melika, (Hymenoptera: Cynipidae: Cynipini), including new combinations of Nearctic species and the description of a new species from Panama. Zootaxa. 4938:2(205-232).
Santos, B.F., Wahl, D.B., Rousse, P., Bennett, A.M., Kula, R.R., Brady, S.G. 2021. Phylogenomics of Ichneumoninae (Hymenoptera Ichneumonidae) reveals pervasive morphological convergence and the shortcomings of previous classifications. Systematic Entomology. 46(3):704-724.
Nieto, D.J., Letoumeau, D., Toyama, L., Slay, C., Kula, R.R. 2020. Surveying populations of Delia radicum (L.) (Diptera: Anthomyiidae) and its associated natural enemies in organic cauliflower in California. Biocontrol Science and Technology. 31(1):112-118.
Shinohara, A., Smith, D. 2021. Indoxiphia prima (Hymenoptera, Xiphydriidae): Discovery of a Taiwanese Woodwasp in Southern Japan. Bulletin of the National Museum of Nature and Science. Ser. A, 47(1):1-5.