Detection of sister-species in invasive populations of the fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) from Uganda

PLoS One. 2018 Apr 3;13(4):e0194571. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0194571. eCollection 2018.


The fall armyworm (FAW) Spodoptera frugiperda (J. E. Smith) is a species native to the Americas. This polyphagous lepidopteran pest was first reported in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Principe in 2016, but its presence in eastern Africa has not been confirmed via molecular characterisation. In this study, FAW specimens from western and central Uganda were identified based on the partial mtDNA COI gene sequences, with mtDNA COI haplotypes matching those identified in Nigeria and São Tomé. In this study, we sequence an additional partial mtDNA Cyt b gene and also the partial mtDNA COIII gene in Ugandan FAW samples. We detected identical mitochondrial DNA haplotypes for both the mtDNA Cyt b and COI partial genes, while combining the mtDNA COI/Cyt b haplotypes and mtDNA COIII haplotypes enabled a new maternal lineage in the Ugandan corn-preferred FAW samples to be identified. Our results suggested that the African incursions of S. frugiperda involved at least three maternal lineages. Recent full genome, phylogenetic and microsatellite analyses provided evidence to support S. frugiperda as likely consisted of two sympatric sister species known as the corn-preferred and rice-preferred strains. In our Ugandan FAW populations, we identified the presence of mtDNA haplotypes representative of both sister species. It is not known if both FAW sister species were originally introduced together or separately, and whether they have since spread as a single population. Further analyses of additional specimens originally collected from São Tomé, Nigeria and throughout Africa would be required to clarify this issue. Importantly, our finding showed that the genetic diversity of the African corn-preferred FAW species is higher than previously reported. This potentially contributed to the success of FAW establishment in Africa. Furthermore, with the additional maternal lineages detected, there is likely an increase in paternal lineages, thereby increasing the diversity of the African FAW population. Knowledge of the FAW genetic diversity will be needed to assess the risks of introducing Bt-resistance traits and to understand the FAW incursion pathways into the Old World and its potential onward spread. The agricultural implications of the presence of two evolutionary divergent FAW lineages (the corn and the rice lineage) in the African continent are further considered and discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Genes, Mitochondrial
  • Haplotypes
  • Introduced Species*
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Spodoptera / classification*
  • Spodoptera / genetics*
  • Uganda


  • DNA, Mitochondrial

Grant support

MHO acknowledges funding from the Agricultural Technology and Agribusiness Advisory Services Project (Project ID No.: P109224) funded by the World Bank. WTT and TKW acknowledged funding support from CSIRO Health and Biosecurity (R-8681-1) and CSIRO Land and Water.