Comparison of Navigation-Related Brain Regions in Migratory versus Non-Migratory Noctuid Moths

Front Behav Neurosci. 2017 Sep 4;11:158. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00158. eCollection 2017.


Brain structure and function are tightly correlated across all animals. While these relations are ultimately manifestations of differently wired neurons, many changes in neural circuit architecture lead to larger-scale alterations visible already at the level of brain regions. Locating such differences has served as a beacon for identifying brain areas that are strongly associated with the ecological needs of a species-thus guiding the way towards more detailed investigations of how brains underlie species-specific behaviors. Particularly in relation to sensory requirements, volume-differences in neural tissue between closely related species reflect evolutionary investments that correspond to sensory abilities. Likewise, memory-demands imposed by lifestyle have revealed similar adaptations in regions associated with learning. Whether this is also the case for species that differ in their navigational strategy is currently unknown. While the brain regions associated with navigational control in insects have been identified (central complex (CX), lateral complex (LX) and anterior optic tubercles (AOTU)), it remains unknown in what way evolutionary investments have been made to accommodate particularly demanding navigational strategies. We have thus generated average-shape atlases of navigation-related brain regions of a migratory and a non-migratory noctuid moth and used volumetric analysis to identify differences. We further compared the results to identical data from Monarch butterflies. Whereas we found differences in the size of the nodular unit of the AOTU, the LX and the protocerebral bridge (PB) between the two moths, these did not unambiguously reflect migratory behavior across all three species. We conclude that navigational strategy, at least in the case of long-distance migration in lepidopteran insects, is not easily deductible from overall neuropil anatomy. This suggests that the adaptations needed to ensure successful migratory behavior are found in the detailed wiring characteristics of the neural circuits underlying navigation-differences that are only accessible through detailed physiological and ultrastructural investigations. The presented results aid this task in two ways. First, the identified differences in neuropil volumes serve as promising initial targets for electrophysiology. Second, the new standard atlases provide an anatomical reference frame for embedding all functional data obtained from the brains of the Bogong and the Turnip moth.

Keywords: 3D-neuroanatomy; Bogong moth; central complex; insect brain; migration; navigation; standard brain.