Pitcher plant bogs of the southeastern United States Coastal Plain support some of the largest carnivorous plant assemblages in the world; comprised by 29 or more species in five genera that were once common throughout the region. However, it now occupies less than 3% of its former range due to fire suppression, urbanization, forestry and agriculture. Numerous bog species are currently listed as federally endangered and/or are state-protected. Previous research and conservation efforts have focused on the plants of this ecosystem, but little is currently known about their arthropod associates. For example, the pitcher plants of the genus Sarracenia harbor a community comprised of 17 or more species of endemic moths, flies and mites. Unfortunately, the population structure of these symbionts, their level of isolation and the impact of events like fire management remain unknown. While migration and recolonization likely exist under current conditions for some of these associates, others may have limited dispersal abilities. Thus, understanding the population structures of both plants and obligate arthropod associates has implications for future conservation strategies.
Examination of population structure of an obligate arthropod associate has been generously funded by a National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS)/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Graduate Research Fellowship as well as a Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid to Jessica D. Stephens and will be conducted from eastern Texas through North Carolina. Focus will be on Exyra semicrocea (pictured above), a moth associated with Sarracenia spp., because 1) its natural history is well documented; 2) it is entirely dependent on Sarracenia for survival, and; 3) it has been observed traveling short distances between nearby plants, implying short flight duration and limited dispersal. We will be examining if habitat fragmentation creates dispersal barriers for E. semicrocea using a ~670-bp fragment of the mitochondrial (mtDNA) cytochrome c oxidase subunit (COI). Ultimately, the information from this project will provide new insight into this unique and endangered ecosystem and ensure more informed conservation decisions are made in the future throughout the southeastern Coastal Plain.