Jacob Brammer

By William & Mary

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You Are What You Eat: the Monarch Butterfly and its Milkweed Cardenolides

This honors thesis will investigate the relationship between the charismatic Monarch butterfly and the poisonous milkweed plant on which it feeds. By monitoring the larval stage of the Monarch’s life cycle under varied feeding conditions, and with advanced chemical analysis, I hope to better understand the process by which the butterfly repurposes the milkweed’s toxins for its own defense. Milkweed plants of a given species produce a striking variety of these chemicals and the diversity is even greater between species. In previous studies, the Monarch has demonstrated a preference for the borrowing of some toxin types over others, even converting between them to stockpile its favorites. The butterfly feeds on 27 different milkweed species along its 3,000-mile migratory route so the ecological implications of this chemical discrimination process are of great interest. Understanding the insects’ strategy of bias in repurposing poisons from the wide array of milkweed species they consume is vital to their conservation. 

All William & Mary Honors Fellowships fundraising supports the Charles Center Honors Fellowships Fund. Direct support for individual undergraduate research projects is distributed by the Roy R. Charles Center for Academic Excellence. To learn more about Honors Fellowships, please visit our About page. If you have questions, please visit our FAQ page.

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