Collaborative Research: Plants, Herbivores, and Parasitoids: A Model System for the study of Tri-Trophic Associations
Intellectual Merit: All of the nearly 20,000 species in the North American flora are attacked by phytophagous insects, and many of those insects are attacked by parasitic Hymenoptera. Data on plant taxa, insect herbivores, and their parasitoids are currently not accessible in a uniform manner nor are they integrated online. This project will mobilize an extensive workforce that will utilize the combined resources of 34 museums in one of the most relevant database projects ever, to capture and make available ~4 million specimen records and to unify a total of >7.8 million records. Our tri-trophic approach will have benefit for a wide range of research questions and practical applications, including agricultural sciences, conservation, ecosystems studies, climate change, and biogeography.
This Thematic Collection Network (TCN) will focus on one of the major herbivorous insect clades, the Hemiptera (aphids, scales, hoppers, cicadas, and true bugs), their host plants, and their parasitoids in a Tri-Trophic Databasing and imaging project—the TTD. It will treat the North American biota utilizing collections within the USA. Not only is the size of the problem tractable, but also nearly all of the collections relevant to the United States biota reside within the United States, with substantial amounts of material from Canada and Mexico also being available in US institutions. The TTD will be coordinated by seven collaborating institutions. Each possesses necessary taxonomic expertise, proven leadership skills, and the ability to form networks with another 27 large and small institutions, to capture and deliver specimen data for organisms in all three trophic levels.
Hemiptera, the largest clade of non-holometabolous insects, is represented in North America north of Mexico by >11,000 species. Many are agricultural pests, including such economically devastating examples as armored scales, mealy bugs, black bean and peach aphids, potato leafhoppers, and Lygus bugs; some are beneficial as predators of other insect pests. Their specialized sap-sucking habits make many aphids, psyllids, and plant hoppers effective vectors of plant diseases, and therefore of extreme economic importance.
About 85% of Hemiptera are herbivorous and many show high degrees of host specificity. In addition, Hemiptera exhibit preferences for certain groups of plants, including the very large families Asteraceae, Fabaceae, Poaceae, and Rosaceae, and it is the >8000 North American species in these groups that will be the primary focus our botanical digitizing efforts.
Parasitic Hymenoptera, especially Chalcidoidea, exploit Hemiptera. They are major natural population-control mechanisms that are widely used in biological control efforts. This relevance as natural enemies attests to the value of resources organized for understanding their distributions and phenologies and how these relate to their North American hemipteran hosts.
This project will build on results of prior NSF-support, including the Planetary Biodiversity Inventories award for Miridae and digitization of parasitoids and botanical specimens. Specimen data will become available for more than 1.64 million hemipterans (10-fold increase), 200,000 parasitoids (20- fold increase), and more than 6 million plants in 20 families (2-fold increase for participating herbaria). Data capture will maximize taxon-taxon information across the three trophic levels. Data will be made available through web portals including GBIF, Discover Life, and a project-specific web page.
Broader Impacts: This proposal will create a cross-cutting network to integrate information
from 15 botanical and 19 entomological collections. It will build a database of specimen information
relevant for studies of climate change, plant-herbivore-parasitoid phenology, pest status and distribution,
biological control, systematics, and biogeography. Technological tools and methods will be introduced
through a short course, at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) Richard Gilder Graduate
School, to a broad range of graduate students at the AMNH, affiliated universities, and grant-sponsored
students from other institutions. A data mining and species-distribution modeling symposium at the
University of California Riverside will foster interaction between the systematics and ecological research
communities and explore the TTD database as a platform for instruction and inquiry. A large cadre of
undergraduate and graduate students will be involved in the data capture process, exposing them to a
range of issues surrounding the nature, collection, organization, and use of such biodiversity data.