Molecular identification of the prey range of the invasive Asian paper wasp



The prey range of the invasive Asian paper wasp, Polistes chinensis antennalis, was studied using molecular diagnostics. Nests of paper wasps were collected from urban residential and salt marsh habitats, larvae were removed and dissected, and DNA in the gut of the paper wasp larvae was amplified and sequenced with cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI). Seventy percent of samples (211/299) yielded medium-to high-quality sequences, and prey identification was achieved using BLAST searches in BOLD. A total of 42 taxa were identified from 211 samples. Lepidoptera were the majority of prey, with 39 taxa from 91% of samples. Diptera was a relatively small component of prey (three taxa, 19 samples). Conclusive species-level identification of prey was possible for 67% of samples, and genus-level identification, for another 12% of samples. The composition of prey taken was different between the two habitats, with 2.5× more native prey species being taken in salt marsh compared with urban habitats. The results greatly extend the prey range of this invasive species. The technique is a more effective and efficient approach than relying on the collection of “prey balls”, or morphological identification of prey, for the study of paper wasps.