Because of morphological ambiguity, traditional identification of Reticulitermes Holmgren termites has always been difficult and unreliable. A molecular diagnostic method is presented for differentiating Reticulitermes species occurring in the south central United States, which are economically important urban pests. A 379-bp region of the mtDNA COII gene and a 415-bp region of the mtDNA 16S rRNA gene were amplified using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequenced from Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar), Reticulitermes virginicus (Banks), Reticulitermes hageni Banks, and Reticulitermes tibialis (Banks). Applying DNA sequence data, the PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP) analysis of two restriction enzymes each for the COII amplicon and the 16S amplicon, were diagnostic for all of the Reticulitermes species analyzed. Based on putative mutation rates, >87% and 97% of the samples should be successfully identified to species with PCR-RFLP of COII and 16S, respectively. To verify the accuracy of our predictions, we examined unclassified Reticultermes populations from Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia using PCR-RFLP. Applying PCR-RFLP, 97 samples were correctly classified to species. This technique allows the use of field-collected specimens preserved in alcohol and can identify termite specimens regardless of caste. PCR-RFLP, resolved with agarose or polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, provided an efficient method for identification of Reticulitermes species from the south central United States for diagnostic purposes.
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Vol. 96 • No. 5