Monarch Migration and Genetics


Jaap De Roode, Emory University

Jaap De Roode, Emory University

To understand the evolutionary origin and genetic basis of these two hallmark monarch traits, a team led by Marcus Kronforst from the University of Chicago and Shuai Zhan from the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences sequenced 92 Danaus plexippus genomes from around the world — including non-migratory and white varieties — as well as nine closely related species.

They found that monarchs are ancestrally migratory. These butterflies are predominantly a North American species, though their broad distribution now includes South and Central America and Western Europe. The team traced the lineage back to a migratory population that likely originated in the southern U.S. or northern Mexico. The butterflies then dispersed out of North America in three separate events: to Central and South America, across the Atlantic, and across the Pacific. In all three cases, the butterfly lost its migratory behavior; only North American monarchs migrate.

Much to learn you still have…my old padawan. This is just the beginning to better understand our Monarch friends.