4 Aug 2016 : Andy Young

Micro-moth discoveries in southern Australia: a new understanding of evolution, biology and distribution of primitive Lepidoptera

Speaker : Dr Andy Young – Kangaroo Island

Venue    : Thu 4 Aug 2016, 4pm (Murdoch University, ECL2.031)

During the period 2010-2015, we have made three notable discoveries while researching the micro-moth fauna of southern Australia.

The first was the discovery of the new Monotrysian moth Family, the Aenigmatidae. The second the discovery of a large obligate-mutualism association between a group of moths within the Heliozelidae of the south-west of Western Australia and plants within the genus Boronia (Rutaceae). Finally, several species of Microptergidae (Lepidoptera, Zeugloptera) were discovered, for the first time, in the the south-west of Western Australia.

Possibly the most significant finding, was the discovery of the previously unknown Monotrysian Family, the Aenigmatinidae, in the form of the new species Aenigmatinea glatzii. It was discovered on Kangaroo Island, off the southern coast of South Australia.

Initially the placement of this Family was uncertain, due to a combination of ‘primitive’ and ‘advanced’ morphology. Molecular tools were used to elucidate the position of the Family, in combination with detailed morphological analysis.

Our work with Aenigmatinea has demonstrated that transcriptome sequencing is a efficient method for generating many gene sequences, enabling us to resolve older splits, including up to Superfamily level. In the Aenigmatinea study, we used a combination of PCR to amplify two conserved genes and transcriptome sequencing to obtain a further 14 nuclear genes. The combined data set (19512 bp in total) allowed us to place the new family Anigmatineae amongst the Glossata (or ‘tongue moths’), as a sister group to the Neopseustidae, and forming a clade which is sister to all Heteroneura, the vast majority of known Lepidoptera.

The second discovery was that of the complex association within the Australian Heliozelidae (Lepidoptera; Adeloidea), of a new genera closely allied to the described genus Pseliastis, involved in an obligate pollination/early-biology mutualism with the pinnate-leaved members of the section Boronia species (Rutaceae).

A sister family of the Heliozelidae, the Prodoxidae, are the only other members of the order Lepidoptera currently described as having such an association with a similar grouping of plants.

We have discovered that pollination is enacted by the use of a specialised organ on the abdomen of the female moth during oviposition.

As with the prodoxids, it appears that a second genus of related opportunist moths has arisen from the pollinators and lays their eggs into the already fertilised flowers. Our discovery of these associations is ongoing, with around 50 new species to science, known and in the process of being described as a result of our ongoing work.

We have been constructing both higher level and genus group specific phylogenies of the Australian Heliozelidae.

Initially we produced a preliminary phylogeny of Heliozelidae using two mitochondrial (COI and COII) and two nuclear genes (28S and H3). We sequenced a number of specimens from most Heliozelidae genera, including several genera recently discovered in Australia but not yet described. This phylogeny resulted in a number of strongly supported clades, with clear separation between most Australian and Northern Hemisphere groups. However, this phylogeny did not resolve the older, higher level relationships between the clades. To address these issues, we have collected fresh specimens from almost every Heliozelidae genera from which we will generate full transcriptomes. Our aim is to use transcriptome data to produce a well-resolved phylogeny of the Heliozelidae.

Finally, the discovery of a species of Sabatinca (New Zealand group) by Professor Doug Hilton has led to the discovery of a further three species of Western Australian Micropterigidae bu our group. These later three species appear to be in a separate genus apparently unique to WA and possibly related to the eastern Australian genus Tasmantrix. They are the subject of further research by Dr. George Gibbs of the Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand, and will be published in the near future.

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