I am interested in exploring insect navigation from the level of neurons to species. Orientation and navigation are fundamental for animals to move through their environments and require integration of a variety of sensory cues. For many animals, such as locusts or monarch butterflies, navigation depends on the internal state of the animal and environmental conditions. Like these larger insects, even the humble vinegar fly, Drosophila melanogaster, can disperse long distances using celestial cues. In my lab we will leverage the genetic tools available to probe the neural circuits underlying navigation. Furthermore, through quantitative behavioral analysis in D. melanogaster and other species we explore how animals process multiple sensory cues and how ecology and evolution have shaped navigation behavior.
Using genetic tools and live neural imaging we will identify neurons involved in orientation and navigation behavior.
In the real world, animals must process complex, multisensory cues. Through behavioral and neurophysiological experiments, we seek to understand how organisms process complex stimuli.
The Drosophila genus is hyperdiverse and presents an excellent opportunity to explore how flies with different ecologies have solved navigational challenges.
Exploring the neural circuitry underlying navigation
Using genetic tools available in Drosophila melanogaster we will identify the neurons responsible for navigation behavior. Multiphoton imaging allows us to quantify activity of specific cells or cell classes during flight behavior. Optogenetic tools allow us to precisely silence or activate cells during behavior. In conjunction with novel methods to identify neurons that putatively connect with neurons of interest (trans-Tango, photoactivatable GFP) we can effectively identify and characterize how information is processed in the insect brain during an ethologically-relevant behavior.
Navigation across species
Comparative study of navigation
Although laboratory experiments have great power to uncover mechanisms underlying behavior, in the real world, animals a constant barrage of complex stimuli as they navigate. Field experiments which take advantage of cheap and accessible cameras and monitoring systems coupled with machine-vision analysis have great potential to not only test the conclusions of laboratory experiments and generate new hypotheses. Furthermore, the Drosophila genus is hyperdiverse, with over 1500 species, and they are found in almost all environments on Earth. Species vary tremendously in their dispersal behavior yet very little natural history exists for most of these taxa. We can take advantage of this natural diversity to test how different species have shared or different solutions to navigational challenges.