Apr 10, 2015

Brain composition in Heliconius butterflies, post-eclosion growth and experience dependent neuropil plasticity

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Stephen H MontgomerySwidbert R Ott


Behavioral and sensory adaptations are often based in the differential expansion of brain components. These volumetric differences represent changes in investment, processing capacity and/or connectivity, and can be used to investigate functional and evolutionary relationships between different brain regions, and between brain composition and behavioral ecology. Here, we describe the brain composition of two species of Heliconius butterflies, a long-standing study system for investigating ecological adaptation and speciation. We confirm a previous report of striking mushroom body expansion, and explore patterns of post-eclosion growth and experience-dependent plasticity in neural development. This analysis uncovers age- and experience-dependent post-emergence mushroom body growth comparable to that in foraging hymenoptera, but also identifies plasticity in several other neuropil. An interspecific analysis indicates that Heliconius display remarkable levels of investment in mushroom bodies for a lepidopteran, and indeed rank highly compared to other insects. Our analyses lay the foundation for future comparative and experimental analyses that will establish Heliconius as a useful case study in evolutionary neurobiology.

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