Many animals show impressive navigation skills that exceed even our own abilities. Amongst them, insects with their miniature brains are undoubtly one of the most capable navigators on earth. A prime example are monarch butterflies. Every year, millions of these colorful butterflies migrate over thousands of kilometers from North America to their overwintering habitats in Central Mexico. Even though these animals have never been migrating to Mexico before, they are able to find the same trees that their ancestor have been using for overwintering. How these animals are able to exhibit these navigation skills is still poorly understood.
In our lab group, we investigate the navigation compass of monarch butterflies. How do these animals use celestial cues, such as the sun or polarized light, to maintain their southerly migratory direction? Using behavioral (flight simulators), anatomical (confocal imaging and 3D modelling), and electrophysiological (intracellular and tetrode recordings) experiments we aim to understand the neuronal principles of the internal sun compass in the monarch butterfly brain and its behavioral output signals.
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- The relevance of different celestial cues for the migration of monarch butterflies.
- Anatomical organization of the sky compass network in the monarch butterfly brain.
- Investigating the integration of sun compass and time of day-information in the monarch butterfly brain using intracellular recordings.
- Studying compass neurons in the monarch butterfly brain using multiunit recordings.
Flight-induced compass representation in the monarch butterfly heading network, Current Biology 32, 338–349.e5.(2022)
Sun compass neurons are tuned to migratory orientation in monarch butterflies, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, The Royal Society 288, 20202988.(2021)
Spatial orientation based on multiple visual cues in non-migratory monarch butterflies, Journal of Experimental Biology, The Company of Biologists Ltd 223, jeb223800.(2020)
Multimodal cue integration in the dung beetle compass, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences 116, 14248–14253.(2019)
Anatomical basis of sun compass navigation II: The neuronal composition of the central complex of the monarch butterfly, Journal of Comparative Neurology, Wiley Subscription Services, Inc., A Wiley Company 521, 267–298.(2013)