A monarch butterfly drinks nectar from a Mexican sunflower at the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis. Kathy Keatley Garvey/Courtesy photo

UC Davis

Talk examines monarch butterfly migration, health

Millions of North American monarch butterflies migrate from Canada and the United States to overwintering areas in Mexico and then return, fluttering some 2,000 to 3,000 miles in what’s been called “an incredible mass migration.”

But how healthy are they?

Sonia Altizer, an associate professor in the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia, Athens, will discuss “Migratory Immunity: Parasite Infection, Host Defense and Fitness Costs in Monarch Butterflies” at a free seminar Wednesday.

Her talk runs from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive on the UC Davis campus. It is sponsored by the UCD department of entomology.

“Monarchs are globally distributed and best known for undertaking a spectacular annual migration in parts of North America,” Altizer says.

But in wild populations, monarchs are commonly infected with a parasite that can cause debilitating infections.

“The monarch-parasite system has served as a model for understanding how long-distance migration affects host-pathogen ecology,” she says.

Parasite prevalence and virulence is highest in non-migratory monarch populations, she adds. The parasite threatens the butterfly’s survival and flight performance.

Altizer received her bachelor’s degree in 1992 from Duke University, doctorate in 1998 from the University of Minnesota, and did postdoctoral work at Princeton and Cornell University. Her research focuses on the interplay between animal behavior and the spread and evolution of infectious diseases.

For the past 15 years, Altizer has studied monarch butterfly migration, ecology and interactions with a protozoan parasite, asking how seasonal migration of these butterflies affects parasite transmission.

In a webcast project coordinated by professor James R. Carey, the seminars will be videotaped and can be accessed at a later date on UCTV.

Kathy Keatley Garvey

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