Geomagnetic field (GMF) intensity can be used by some animals to determine their position during migration. However, its role, if any, in mediating other migration-related phenotypes remains largely unknown. Here, we simulated variation in GMF intensity between two locations along the migration route of a nocturnal insect migrant, the brown planthopper Nilaparvata lugens, that varied by approximately 5 µT in field intensity. After one generation of exposure, we tested for changes in key morphological, behavioural and physiological traits related to migratory performance, including wing dimorphism, flight capacity and positive phototaxis. Our results showed that all three morphological and behavioural phenotypes responded to a small difference in magnetic field intensity. Consistent magnetic responses in the expression of the phototaxis-related Drosophila-like cryptochrome 1 (Cry1) gene and levels of two primary energy substrates used during flight, triglyceride and trehalose, were also found. Our findings indicate changes in GMF intensity can alter the expression of phenotypes critical for insect migration and highlight the unique role of magnetoreception as a trait that may help migratory insects express potentially beneficial phenotypes in geographically variable environments.
Keywords: brown planthopper; flight capacity; geomagnetic field intensity; magnetoreception; positive phototaxis; wing dimorphism.