Study published in Nature Communications finds inclination compass in monarchs responds to UVA light
Each fall millions of monarch butterflies use a sophisticated navigation system to transverse 2,000 miles from breeding sites across the eastern United States to an overwintering habitat in specific groves of fir trees in central Mexico.
Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Worcester Polytechnic Institute have identified a new component of this complex system. They reported in Nature Communications that monarchs use a light-dependent, inclination magnetic compass to help them orient southward during migration.
"Taken as a whole, our study reveals another fascinating aspect of the monarch butterfly migratory behavior," said senior study author Steven Reppert, MD, the Higgins Family Professor of Neuroscience and distinguished professor of neurobiology at UMass Medical School.
"Greater knowledge of the mechanisms underlying the fall migration may well aid in its preservation, currently threatened by climate change and by the continuing loss of milkweed and overwintering habitats. A new vulnerability to now consider is the potential disruption of the magnetic compass in the monarchs by human-induced electromagnetic noise, which can also affect geomagnetic orientation in migratory birds."
Co-author Robert Gegear, PhD, assistant professor of biology and biotechnology at WPI, explained, "Our study shows that monarchs use a sophisticated magnetic inclination compass system for navigation similar to that used by much larger-brained migratory vertebrates such as birds and sea turtles."
Monarchs use a time-compensated sun compass in their antenna to help them make their 2,000 mile migratory journey to overwintering sites. During the absence of daylight cues, such as under dense cloud cover, migrants have been, surprisingly, seen flying in the expected southerly direction. It's been hypothesized that monarchs use geomagnetic cues to help navigate when day light cues are unavailable to them during migration.
Previous attempts by scientists to isolate use of an internal inclination compass in monarchs have yielded conflicting or unconvincing results. These studies, however, may not have accounted for the possibility that the magnetic compass was influenced by ultraviolet light that can penetrate cloud cover.
Given the ability of monarch cryptochromes (CRY), a class of proteins that are sensitive to ultraviolet A/blue light, to restore a light-dependent magnetic response in CRY-deficient Drosophila, Reppert and colleagues suspected that monarchs also possessed a light-dependent magnetic compass.
Using flight simulators equipped with artificial magnetic fields, Patrick Guerra, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Reppert lab, examined monarch flight behavior under diffuse white light conditions. He found that tethered monarchs in the simulators oriented themselves in a southerly direction. Further tests in the simulator revealed that the butterflies used the inclination angle of Earth's magnetic field to guide their movement. Reversing the direction of the inclination caused the monarchs to orient in the opposite direction, to the north instead of the south.
To test the light-dependence of the monarch's magnetic compass, Dr. Guerra applied a series of wavelength blocking filters to the lights in the simulator. Monarchs exposed to light only in the wavelength range above 420nm exhibited a lack of direction by flying in circles. Monarchs exposed to light in the wavelength range above 380nm showed clear signs of directional flight. These tests showed that the monarch's magnetic compass, and thus directional flight, was dependent on exposure to light wavelengths (380nm to 420nm) found in the ultraviolet A/blue light spectral range.
Together, these results provide the first demonstration that the monarch butterfly uses a light-dependent, inclination compass during its long journey. It is also the first evidence of such a navigational tool in a long-distance migratory insect.
"For migratory monarchs, the inclination compass may serve as an important back up system when daylight cues are unavailable," Guerra said. "It may also augment hand-in-hand with the time-compensated sun compass to provide orientation and directionality throughout the migration process."
The next step for Reppert and colleagues will be to evaluate the molecular and genetic mechanisms of magneto-reception in the monarch butterfly and the involvement of CRYs.
About the University of Massachusetts Medical School
The University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS), one of five campuses of the University system, comprises the School of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Graduate School of Nursing, a thriving research enterprise and an innovative public service initiative, Commonwealth Medicine. Its mission is to advance the health of the people of the commonwealth through pioneering education, research, public service and health care delivery with its clinical partner, UMass Memorial Health Care. In doing so, it has built a reputation as a world-class research institution and as a leader in primary care education. The Medical School attracts more than $240 million annually in research funding, placing it among the top 50 medical schools in the nation. In 2006, UMMS's Craig C. Mello, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with colleague Andrew Z. Fire, PhD, of Stanford University, for their discoveries related to RNA interference (RNAi). The 2013 opening of the Albert Sherman Center ushered in a new era of biomedical research and education on campus. Designed to maximize collaboration across fields, the Sherman Center is home to scientists pursuing novel research in emerging scientific fields with the goal of translating new discoveries into innovative therapies for human diseases.
Jim Fessenden | Eurek Alert!
Gene switch may repair DNA and prevent cancer
12.02.2016 | Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences at Kyoto University
New method opens crystal clear views of biomolecules
11.02.2016 | Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY
Today, plants and microorganisms are heavily used for the production of medicinal products. The production of biopharmaceuticals in plants, also referred to as “Molecular Pharming”, represents a continuously growing field of plant biotechnology. Preferred host organisms include yeast and crop plants, such as maize and potato – plants with high demands. With the help of a special algal strain, the research team of Prof. Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam strives to develop a more efficient and resource-saving system for the production of medicines and vaccines. They tested its practicality by synthesizing a component of a potential AIDS vaccine.
The use of plants and microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals is nothing new. In 1982, bacteria were genetically modified to produce human insulin, a drug...
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock which attains an accuracy which had only been predicted theoretically so far. Their optical ytterbium clock achieved a relative systematic measurement uncertainty of 3 E-18. The results have been published in the current issue of the scientific journal "Physical Review Letters".
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock...
The University of Würzburg has two new space projects in the pipeline which are concerned with the observation of planets and autonomous fault correction aboard satellites. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy funds the projects with around 1.6 million euros.
Detecting tornadoes that sweep across Mars. Discovering meteors that fall to Earth. Investigating strange lightning that flashes from Earth's atmosphere into...
Physicists from Saarland University and the ESPCI in Paris have shown how liquids on solid surfaces can be made to slide over the surface a bit like a bobsleigh on ice. The key is to apply a coating at the boundary between the liquid and the surface that induces the liquid to slip. This results in an increase in the average flow velocity of the liquid and its throughput. This was demonstrated by studying the behaviour of droplets on surfaces with different coatings as they evolved into the equilibrium state. The results could prove useful in optimizing industrial processes, such as the extrusion of plastics.
The study has been published in the respected academic journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).
Exceeding critical temperature limits in the Southern Ocean may cause the collapse of ice sheets and a sharp rise in sea levels
A future warming of the Southern Ocean caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere may severely disrupt the stability of the West...
12.02.2016 | Event News
09.02.2016 | Event News
02.02.2016 | Event News
12.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
12.02.2016 | Life Sciences
12.02.2016 | Medical Engineering