Survey for winter moth (Lepidoptera: Geometridae) in northeastern North America with pheromone-baited traps and hybridization with the native Bruce spanworm (Lepidoptera: Geometridae).
We used pheromone-baited traps to survey the distribution of winter moth, Operophtera brumata (L.) (Lepidoptera: Geometridae), a new invasive defoliator from Europe in eastern New England. The traps also attracted Bruce spanworm, Operophtera bruceata (Hulst) (Lepidoptera: Geometridae), native to North America. We distinguished between the two species by examining male genitalia and sequencing the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI) gene, the DNA barcoding region. In 2005, we recovered winter moths at sites stretching from eastern Long Island, southeastern Connecticut, all of Rhode Island, eastern Massachusetts, coastal New Hampshire, and southern coastal Maine. At sites further west and north we captured only Bruce spanworm. In 2006, we confirmed that both winter moth and Bruce spanworm are present in Nova Scotia and in coastal Maine, but only Bruce spanworm was recovered in coastal New Brunswick, Canada; Pennsylvania; Vermont; or Quebec City, Canada. In 2007, we collected Bruce spanworm, but no winter moths, in New Brunswick and the interior areas of Maine, New Hampshire, and New York. Winter moth and Bruce spanworm differed in the COI sequence by 7.45% of their nucleotides. The prevalence of intermediate genitalia in the zone of overlap suggested that hybridization between the two species may be occurring. To confirm the presence of hybrids, we sequenced the nuclear gene, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD). We identified six nucleotides that routinely distinguished winter moth and Bruce spanworm, of which three were always diagnostic. We showed that eggs produced by hybridizing the two species in the laboratory contained copies of both species at these six sites. We found that most of the moths collected in the field with intermediate genitalia had winter moth CO1 and G6PD sequences and thus were not hybrids (or at least F1 hybrids). We found three hybrids out of 158 moths with intermediate genitalia in the region where both species were caught. We conclude that hybrids occur in nature, but are not as common as previously reported. Introgression of genes between the two species may still be significant.