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Sun compass neurons are tuned to migratory orientation in monarch butterflies

Citation

Nguyen, Tu Anh Thi; Beetz, M. Jerome; Merlin, Christine; el Jundi, Basil (2022), Sun compass neurons are tuned to migratory orientation in monarch butterflies, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.dv41ns1wr

Abstract

Every autumn, monarch butterflies migrate from North America to their overwintering sites in Central Mexico. To maintain their southward direction, these butterflies rely on celestial cues as orientation references. The position of the sun combined with additional skylight cues are integrated in the central complex, a region in the butterfly’s brain that acts as an internal compass. However, the central complex does not solely guide the butterflies on their migration but helps monarchs in their non-migratory form manoeuvre on foraging trips through their habitat. By comparing the activity of input neurons of the central complex between migratory and non-migratory butterflies, we investigated how a different lifestyle affects the coding of orientation information in the brain. During recording, we presented the animals with different simulated celestial cues and found that the encoding of the sun was narrower in migratory compared to non-migratory butterflies. This feature might reflect the need of the migratory monarchs to rely on a precise sun compass to keep their direction during their journey. Taken together, our study sheds light on the neural coding of celestial cues and provides insights into how a compass is adapted in migratory animals to successfully steer them to their destination.

Methods

Intracellular recordings from the monarch butterfly central complex. The data were analysed in Matlab (version 2019.b) through custom-written scripts. We provide the scripts as Matlab file as well as txt.file and the raw data (as mat. and csv. files).

Funding

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Award: EL 784/1-1