The reliability of genitalia morphology to monitor the spread of the invasive winter moth (Lepidoptera: Geometridae) in Eastern North America.
Winter moth, Operophtera brumata L. (Lepidoptera: Geometridae), causes widespread defoliation in both its native and introduced distributions. Invasive populations of winter moth are currently established in the United States and Canada, and pheromone-baited traps have been widely used to track its spread. Unfortunately, a native species, the Bruce spanworm, O. bruceata (Hulst), and O. bruceata × brumata hybrids respond to the same pheromone, complicating efforts to detect novel winter moth populations. Previously, differences in measurements of a part of the male genitalia called the uncus have been utilized to differentiate the species; however, the accuracy of these measurements has not been quantified using independent data. To establish morphological cutoffs and estimate the accuracy of uncus-based identifications, we compared morphological measurements and molecular identifications based on microsatellite genotyping. We find that there are significant differences in some uncus measurements, and that in general, uncus measurements have low type I error rates (i.e., the probability of having false positives for the presence of winter moth). However, uncus measurements had high type II error rates (i.e., the probability of having false negatives for the presence of winter moth). Our results show that uncus measurements can be useful for performing preliminary identifications to monitor the spread of winter moth, though for accurate monitoring, molecular methods are still required. As such, efforts to study the spread of winter moth into interior portions of North America should utilize a combination of pheromone trapping and uncus measurements, while maintaining vouchers for molecular identification.