Genetic criteria for establishing evolutionarily significant units in Cryan's buckmoth

John T. Legge, Richard Roush, Rob Desalle, Alfried P. Vogler, Bernie May

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59 Scopus citations


Buckmoths (Hemileuca spp.) are day-flying saturniid moths with diverse ecologies and host plants. Populations that feed on Menyanthes trifoliata, known commonly as Cryan's buckmoths, have been found in only a few bogs and fens near eastern Lake Ontario in New York and near Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. Because of their unique ecological traits, geographic isolation from other Hemileuca populations, and the small number of sites they occupy, there is concern that the Cryan's buckmoth populations are phylogenetically distinct and should be protected. The Cryan's buckmoths have not yet been taxonomically described and do not appear to have clear distinguishing morphological characters. Both molecular genetic traits (allozymes and mitochondrial DNA sequences) and an ecologically based character (host performance) were investigated to determine whether these populations possess fixed diagnostic characters signifying genetic differentiation from other eastern Hemileuca populations. Such differences would merit separate conservation management as an evolutionarily significant unit. Our studies showed that the Cryan's buckmoths clearly belong to the Hemileuca maia species group, but they could not be readily distinguished from other members of that group by means of molecular genetic techniques. There were no fixed differences in alleles or haplotypes distinguishing any of the populations or species, suggesting recent divergence. Nonetheless, in the host-plant performance experiment only the Cryan's buckmoth larvae were able to develop on M. trifoliata, a significant difference from other Hemileuca larvae tested. The Cryan's buckmoth appears to be unique in host performance and warrants protection and management as an evolutionarily significant unit. In cases such as this where groups appear to have recently diverged, investigations into ecologically significant traits may provide indicators of conservation significance as reliable as molecular genetic markers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-98
Number of pages14
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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