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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

2022 Annual Report

Objective 1: Conduct integrative taxonomic research that incorporates adult, immature, and molecular data to develop new and improve existing classifications of agriculturally important insects, create biosystematic databases, determine host plants, and analyze phylogenetic relationships based on next-generation sequencing, comparative morphological and bioinformatics analyses, and modern illustration methods. [NP304, C1, PS1A; C2, PS2B; C3, PS3A and 3B; C4 PS4A and 4B] Objective 2: Generate molecular and morphological diagnostic tools that will allow stakeholders and beneficiaries (e.g. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Department of Homeland Security, state departments of agriculture, foreign and domestic biological control laboratories, researchers, and citizens worldwide) to accurately identify and rank agriculturally important insects. [NP304, C1, PS1A; C2, PS2B; C3, PS3A; C4 PS4A and 4B] Objective 3: Curate and expand through fieldwork and acquisitions the U. S. National Insect Collection to support morphological and molecular research by U.S. scientists and stakeholders worldwide and enhance pest insect diagnostics. [NP304, C3, PS3A; C2, PS2B; C3, PS3A; C4 PS4A and 4B] Objective 4: Provide expert/authoritative identifications for early detection of potentially invasive or novel insect pests intercepted by APHIS or Homeland Security personnel at U.S. ports, and generate research associated with specimens submitted by ARS researchers for biological control research with U.S. state departments of agriculture and U.S. university scientists. [NP304, C1, PS1A; C2, PS2B; C3, PS3A and 3B; C4 PS4A and 4B]

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. Sub-objective 1A. Phylogenomics of Cynipoidea. The National Insect Collection of the Smithsonian Institution has one of the most comprehensive cynipoid wasp collections in the world. 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. Initial genomic extractions and quantifications required more specimens to be acquired and extracted. All label data recorded into spreadsheets for specimens and data tracking. Researching Taxonomic and Bionomic Data on Wasps Helps Protect U.S. Agricultural Interests. Parasitic wasps attack pest insects that cause billions of dollars of damage to crops and natural resources annually. They also attack beneficial natural enemies and are pests when they disrupt biocontrol. ARS researchers at Beltsville, Maryland, focused on some 200 various species of parasitic wasps associated with: stink bugs that eat major food crops in the US and infest homes; flies that eat strawberry and blackberry, and other fruit; 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. Species identity, correct name usage, and the correct association of biology with species names is essential to biological efforts in the United States, and our research provides this. Sub-objective 1B. Phylogenomics of Eurytomidae. All taxa being included in this analysis have been acquired from recent collections, the National Insect Collection, or collaborators internationally. All have been extracted, libraries prepared and phylogenetic analyses completed. Vouchered reference material is databased and uniquely labeled with a QR code to facilitate subsequent location in the collection. This information will ultimately be made available in the EMU database at the museum level. Sub-objective 1C. Phylogenomics of Braconidae. The Smithsonian Institution’s Laboratories of Analytical Biology (LAB) at the National Museum of Natural History is a state-of-the-art facility with infrastructure for high throughput acquisition of genomics data. Genomic DNA was extracted for all in-group and outgroup taxa included in this subobjective. Some initial genomic extractions and quantifications required the acquisition of specimens and extraction of genomic DNA from those specimens. All additional specimens for this phase of the project were already available in the National Insect Collection of the Smithsonian Institution. In most cases entire specimens were used to extract DNA, resulting in 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. We completed imaging all Hymenoptera primary types in February 2022. Objective 3: Identification. The third Objective of the project was to provide expert Hymenoptera identifications and curatorial services in the NIC. We identified 475 specimen lots, submitted by APHIS, that required urgent identification. The Hymenoptera Unit maintained a ‘no-backlog’ policy of identification lots. Roughly half of the ‘urgent’ identifications were completed digitally based on images.


2. New biological attributes and host records were discovered for wasps important to agriculture and natural resources. Correct identification of biological control agents, as well as an understanding of their biological role in mitigating pestiferous species populations, is essential for making rearing and quarantine decisions in the protection of US agricultural interests worldwide. ARS scientists in Beltsville, Maryland, in a joint project with other scientists in Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., has produced 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. The results of analyses within superfamilies have been published.

Review Publications
Zhang, Y.M., Gates, M.W., Silvestre, R., Scarpa, M. 2021. Description of Kavayva gen. n. (Chalcidoidea, Eurytomidae) and two new species associated with Guarea (Meliaceae), and a review of eurytomids associated with seeds. Journal of Hymenoptera Research. 86:110-121.
Sheikh, S., Ward, A., Zhang, Y., Davis, C., Zhang, L., Egan, S., Forbes, A.A. 2022. Ormyrus labotus (Hymenoptera: Ormyridae): Another generalist that should not be a generalist is not a generalist. Insect Systematics and Diversity. 6:1-14.
Jasso-Martinez, J.M., Quicke, D.L., Belokobylskij, S.A., Santos, B.F., Fernandez-Triana, J., Kula, R.R., Zaldivar-Riveron, A. 2022. Mitochondrial phylogenomics and mitogenome organization in the parasitoid wasp family Braconidae (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonoidea). BMC Evolutionary Biology. 22:46.
Jass0-Martinez, J.M., Santos, B.F., Zaldivar-Riveron, A., Fernandez-Triana, J., Sharanowski, B.J., Richter, R., Dettman, J., Blaimer, B.B., Brady, S., Kula, R.R. 2022. Phylogenomics of braconid wasps (Hymenoptera, Braconidae) sheds light on classification and the evolution of parasitoid life history traits. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 173:107452.
Rossi-Stacconi, M., Wang, X., Stout, A.R., Fellin, L., Daane, K.M., Biondi, A., Stahl, J., Buffington, M.L., Anfora, G., Hoelmer, K.A. 2022. Methods for rearing the parasitoid Ganaspis brasiliensis, a promising biological control agent for invasive Drosophila suzukii. Journal of Visualized Experiments.
Gallardo, F., Funes, C.F., Reche, V.A., Kirschbaum, D.S., Ovruski, S., Buffington, M.L. 2021. First record and distribution of Ganaspis brasiliensis (Hymenoptera: Figitidae: Eucoilinae), a parasitoid of Drosophila suzukii (Diptera: Drosophilidae) in Argentina. Neotropical Entomology. 51:164-169.