Each fall, millions of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) cover several thousand kilometers to reach their hibernation spots in Central Mexico. With the help of a time-compensated sky compass they are able to accurately maintain their southerly flight direction. This makes the monarch butterfly a suitable model organism to investigate the neuronal and behavioral mechanisms underlying spatial orientation and navigation in insects.
In my first project I am investigating how the skylight information is processed in the central complex, the brain region containing the monarch butterfly’s sky compass, and whether there are any differences between migratory and non-migratory butterflies. While performing intracellular recordings, I am testing the response of compass neurons to simulated celestial cues.
In my second project, I am recording the response of compass neurons to more natural visual stimuli using a 360°-arena. This allows me to present the butterflies a combination of skylight and landmark information to the animals during my experiments. The aim is to understand which relevance landmark information has for the coding of compass orientation in monarch butterflies.
1.Nguyen, T. A. T., Beetz, M. J., Merlin, C., and el Jundi, B. (2021) Sun compass neurons are tuned to migratory orientation in monarch butterflies, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, The Royal Society 288, 20202988.
2.Fandino, R. A., Haverkamp, A., Bisch-Knaden, S., Zhang, J., Bucks, S., Nguyen, T. A. T., Schröder, K., Werckenthin, A., Rybak, J., Stengl, M., Knaden, M., Hansson, B. S., and Große-Wilde, E. (2019) Mutagenesis of odorant coreceptor Orco fully disrupts foraging but not oviposition behaviors in the hawkmoth <i>Manduca sexta</i>, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences 116, 15677–15685.