Collaborative Research: Neuroethology of olfactory Evolution in Moths

Project: Research project

Project Details


Effective communication between males and females of the same species (conspecifics) is essential for continued success of a species. In many moth species, communication utilizes production and detection of airborne chemical signals called pheromones. In one moth group, the Heliothines, three species that are evolutionarily closely related use a pheromone blend that contains the same primary component but different secondary components. The males are only attracted by the correct conspecific blend, and repelled by the blends released by females of the other species. Simple mutations in the pathway for synthesis of the blend are likely to have produced the different blends in the females, but it remains unclear how the male olfactory systems have evolved in response to these changes. This project examines this question by correlating behavioral preferences and discrimination abilities of males with their underlying olfactory neurobiology. Anatomical and physiological work will show the properties of structures in the olfactory system both in the antenna and in the complex structures called glomeruli within the brain. Behavioral tests in a wind tunnel will show how hybrids and back-crosses bred from between two species respond, and how their behavioral preferences also correlate with their neuronal physiology and anatomy.

Results will be important for vertebrate as well as invertebrate olfactory biology because of known anatomically similar structures, for comparative evolutionary biology in learning more about how 'receivers' can evolve to match 'senders' of signals, and for agriculture because they may suggest strategies for pest control. This project also will provide fine postdoctoral training in a broad range of biological techniques.

Effective start/end date9/15/998/31/04


  • National Science Foundation: $270,000.00


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