Neurophysiological Response of the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) to Milkweed Volatile Organic Compounds

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Samuel Bailey Stephanie Rollmann


By Samuel Bailey, Biology

Advisor: Stephanie Rollmann

Presentation ID: PM_ATRIUM24

Abstract: Olfaction often plays a critical role in host plant selection by insects. Many insects locate appropriate host plants for feeding and breeding by sensing a plant's volatile chemical signature. An example of this is monarch butterflies, which utilize milkweed, but vary in their preference for different species of this plant. Different milkweed species emit suites of volatile organic compounds spanning multiple chemical classes that could be used by monarch butterflies to guide this preference. Despite the potential importance of olfaction to host preference in monarchs, however, the olfactory mechanisms underlying their host preference behavior remain understudied. Here, we examine the mechanisms underlying host preference in monarch butterflies through a characterization of its olfactory system. Specifically, neurophysiological responses of the monarch antenna to milkweed volatiles were recorded using electroantennograms. The results indicate broad tuning of the antenna to odorants of many chemical classes. Particular sensitivity was found to alcohols and ketones, compounds strongly represented in milkweed species. These results are important for developing conservation strategies to maintain habitat and host plant distributions supportive of the monarch life cycle.

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PM Poster Session -- Atrium -- Sustainability & Biodiversity