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Genetic differentiation, structure, and a transition zone among populations of the pitcher plant moth Exyra semicrocea: implications for conservation


Stephens, Jessica D
Santos, Scott R
Folkerts, Debbie R.


Pitcher plant bogs, or carnivorous plant wetlands, have experienced extensive habitat loss and fragmentation throughout the southeastern United States Coastal Plain, resulting in an estimated reduction to <3% of their former range. This situation has lead to increased management attention of these habitats and their carnivorous plant species. However, conservation priorities focus primarily on the plants since little information currently exists on other community members, such as their endemic arthropod biota. Here, we investigated the population structure of one of these, the obligate pitcher plant moth Exyra semicrocea (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), using mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) gene sequences. Examination of 221 individuals from 11 populations across eight southeastern US states identified 51 unique haplotypes. These haplotypes belonged to one of two divergent (∼1.9-3.0%) lineages separated by the Mississippi alluvial plain. Populations of the West Gulf Coastal Plain exhibited significant genetic structure, contrasting with similarly distanced populations east of the Mississippi alluvial plain. In the eastern portion of the Coastal Plain, an apparent transition zone exists between two regionally distinct population groups, with a well-established genetic discontinuity for other organisms coinciding with this zone. The structure of E. semicrocea appears to have been influenced by patchy pitcher plant bog habitats in the West Gulf Coastal Plain as well as impacts of Pleistocene interglacials on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. These findings, along with potential extirpation of E. semicrocea at four visited, but isolated, sites highlight the need to consider other endemic or associated community members when managing and restoring pitcher plant bog habitats.