Revision of Tribe Empoascini

NSF Systematic Biology Program, DEB 0715499.

C. H. Dietrich and D. A. Dmitriev, PIs

The leafhopper tribe Empoascini comprises 971 valid species, more than half of which belong to a single genus, Empoasca Walsh. No comprehensive revision of this group of ubiquitous, ecologically and economically important leafhoppers has ever been attempted and < 1/3 of the described species have ever been included in a key. Thus, species identifications, when possible at all, require access to obscure descriptive literature and authoritative reference collections. New data management tools facilitate revisionary syntheses of large, taxonomically difficult groups. One of the most versatile tools currently available is 3I (Internet-accessible Interactive Identification), software developed as part of a previous REVSYS project. 3I is an integrated set of taxonomic tools that facilitate rapid production of online interactive keys and near publication-ready taxonomic revisions from a relational database containing nomenclatural and specimen-level collection data, morphological data and associated images, and literature citations. The aim of the proposed project is to use 3I to provide a revisionary synthesis of the speciose leafhopper tribe Empoascini. This tribe is one of the numerically dominant groups of herbivores in many terrestrial ecosystems and includes numerous agricultural pests.

The specific goals of this 3-year project are as follows:

  1. Score ~130 morphological characters for each valid Empoasca species and representatives of other empoascine genera, analyze the data using cladistic parsimony methods, and link the character state data to appropriate taxa and images in a 3I relational database;
  2. Enter georeferenced collection records for ~40,000 authoritatively identified museum specimens of Empoascini into the 3I relational database; and link these data to an already compiled nomenclatural database comprising 971 valid species names and their synonyms;
  3. Generate on-line interactive keys to genera and species, and near publication-ready dichotomous keys and species treatments including synonymy, description, distribution map, list of specimens examined, table of host associations, and list of references from the 3I database;
  4. Publish revisions of the generic classification of Empoascini and species of Empoasca;
  5. Upgrade 3I by incorporating web-based data entry forms and adding more options for mapping of distribution data and storing images of morphological structures.

The project is a joint effort between the PI, a world authority on leafhopper taxonomy; co-PI Dmitriev, developer of 3I and leafhopper systematist (both at the Illinois Natural History Survey); and senior collaborator P. S. Southern, a recently retired expert on Empoasca taxonomy at North Carolina State University (NCSU). Robust infrastructure, including large holdings of Empoascini at INHS and NCSU, an already completed nomenclatural database, and a digital image archive of New World species will facilitate rapid completion of the revisionary synthesis.

Preliminary interactive keys to genera and species of Empoascini are available here.