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A critical component for sustaining adequate food production is the protection of local agriculture from invasive pest insects. Essential to this goal is the ability to accurately distinguish foreign from closely related domestic species, a process that has traditionally required identification using diagnostic morphological “keys” that can be both subtle and labor-intensive. This is the case for the Lepidopteran group of insects represented by Spodoptera, a genus of Noctuidae “armyworm” moths that includes several important agricultural pests. Two of the most destructive species, Spodoptera littoralis (Boisduval) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) and S. litura (F.) are not yet established in North America. To facilitate the monitoring for these pests, the feasibility of using DNA barcoding methodology for distinguishing between domestic and foreign Spodoptera species was tested. A DNA barcoding database was derived for a subset of Spodoptera species native to Florida, with an emphasis on those attracted to pheromone blends developed for S. litura or S. littoralis. These were then compared to the barcode sequences of S. litura collected from Taiwan and S. littoralis from Portugal. Consistent discrimination of the different species was obtained with phenetic relationships produced that were generally in agreement with phylogenetic studies using morphological characteristics. The data presented here indicate that DNA barcoding has the potential to be an efficient and accurate supplement to morphological methods for the identification of invasive Spodoptera pests in North America.
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