Scientists have identified more than 1,500 genetic differences between migratory and non-migratory hoverflies.
A team led by the University of Exeter captured migrating insects as they crossed a mountain pass and sequenced active genes to identify those that determine migratory behavior.
This genetic information was then compared to that of non-migrating summer hoverflies.
“We identified 1,543 genes that differed in activity levels among migrants,” said lead author Toby Doyle, from the Center for Ecology and Conservation at the Penryn Campus in Exeter in Cornwall.
“What really struck us was the remarkable range of roles that these genes play.
“Migration is energetically very demanding, so finding genes for metabolism was no surprise, but we also identified genes with roles in muscle structure and function, hormonal regulation of physiology, immunity , stress resistance, flight and foraging behavior, sensory perception and increased longevity.”
Every autumn, billions of migrating hoverflies leave Northern Europe and make a long journey south.
Their journey takes them through the Pyrenees where they concentrate through high mountain passes.
“It’s an incredible sight to behold, an endless stream of hundreds of thousands of people across a 30 meter pass,” said Dr Karl Wotton.
When the researchers began to categorize these genes by function, they found that suites of genes were activated in concert: insulin signaling for longevity, immunity pathways, and those leading to octopamine production. , the insect equivalent of adrenaline, the fight-or-flight hormone, for a long time. – remote flight.
“These pathways have been built into migratory hoverflies and modified by evolution to allow long-distance travel,” said Dr Wotton.
The work provides a powerful genomic resource and a theoretical framework to guide future studies of the evolution of migration.
Dr Wotton added: “This is an exciting time to study the genetics of migration.
“Our research has already indicated several genes that have previously been associated with migration in butterflies, suggesting the existence of a ‘migratory gene bundle’ that controls migration between multiple animals.”
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