Effective plant quarantine and biological control initiatives require rapid and accurate identification of exotic and potentially invasive taxa that may cause high economic losses or environmental damage. The genus Scirtothrips Shull includes several species that are serious agricultural pests, and, because of their minute size and cryptic behavior, prone to undetected transport through international trade of plant material. Although assigning specimens to the genus Scirtothrips is straightforward using traditional taxonomic methods, identification of species is much more difficult and requires expert knowledge of the genus. Furthermore, the validity of some Scirtothrips species is questionable. Therefore, an easy, accurate, and highly reliable technique is desirable for Scirtothrips identification. Here, we provide a simple molecular key based on the internal transcribed spacer regions 1 and 2 (ITS1 and ITS2) of nuclear ribosomal DNA. Individual specimens can be identified by amplification of their ITS1 and ITS2 regions with general primers and determining the size of the products by using standard agarose gel electrophoresis, followed in some instances by DNA digestion with the restriction enzymes SacII or PspOM I. The advantage of this identification system is that nonspecialists are able to quickly and cheaply identify individual specimens. Material analyzed for this work was collected in the United States (California), India, South Africa, Kenya, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Australia, New Zealand and Raiatea (Society Islands French Polynesia). We have identified seven pest species with the molecular-based methods described here. It is hoped that this system can be extended to other members of the genus as their ITS1 and ITS2 sequences become available. We also provide molecular confirmation for two new Scirtothrips species, one species from Honduras and one species from New Zealand.
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Vol. 99 • No. 5