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Limitations of stable carbon isotope analysis for determining natal host origins of tobacco budworm, Heliothis virescens

Abney, M.R., Sorenson, C.E., Gould, F., Bradley, J.R. Jr..
Entomologia experimentalis et applicata 2008 v.126 no.1 pp. 46-52
Arachis hypogaea, C3 photosynthesis, C3 plants, C4 photosynthesis, C4 plants, Geranium carolinianum, Glycine max, Gossypium hirsutum, Heliothis virescens, Nicotiana tabacum, Nuttallanthus canadensis, carbon, crops, feral animals, host plants, host range, mass spectrometry, moths, phytophagous insects, plant tissues, rearing, stable isotopes, weeds
Differences in the stable carbon isotope ratios of plants utilizing the C3 vs. C4 photosynthetic pathway have been used to broadly identify the natal host origins of herbivorous insects. This study explored whether adequate variation exists between the carbon isotope ratios of different C3 plants in the host range of Heliothis virescens (Fabricius) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) to enable accurate identification of natal host-plant species. Isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) analysis of ¹³C/¹²C ratios of moths reared on four crop plant species [Gossypium hirsutum (L.), Nicotiana tabacum L., Glycine max (L.) Merrill, and Arachis hypogaea L.] and two common weed species [Geranium carolinianum L. and Linaria canadensis (L.) Chaz.] revealed a range of δ¹³C values within that expected for plants utilizing the C3 photosynthetic pathway. Analysis of vegetative and reproductive tissues from the plants utilized in the study resulted in statistically different δ¹³C values for some plant species; nevertheless, the range of δ¹³C values observed for many plant species overlapped. Significant differences in mean δ¹³C values were detected between groups of moths reared on different host-plant species, but there was no significant correlation between the δ¹³C values of moths vs. the δ¹³C value of plant tissue on which they were reared. Feral tobacco budworm moths collected over 3 years were found to have carbon isotope ratios consistent with those having fed on C3 plants, confirming little utilization of C4 plant species by the insect. Results demonstrate that within the range of C3 host plants tested, carbon isotope signatures are not sufficiently unique to enable a reliable determination of natal origin of feral tobacco budworm with current IRMS technology.