Study Explores How Fruit Flies Navigate Unstable Convective Air

By Greg Watry

Drosophila melanogaster

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster lives in deserts and also urban environments with many hot surfaces and resulting air currents. (Photo: Sanjay Acharya)

When insects migrate over vast distances, many take advantage of a natural phenomenon called thermal convection, which causes flow movement when air at different temperatures interact. Hitching a ride on invisible rollercoasters called convection cells, insects—like aphids and spiders—follow the flow of warm air upwards and cold air downwards.

“They are floating up to 3,000 feet,” said Victor Ortega-Jimenez, an assistant project scientist in the Combes Lab at UC Davis, of this movement. “All these clouds of insects are floating up there and moving in these convection cell patterns.”

Engineer Takes Part in Eclipse Experiment

For most of us Monday’s solar eclipse was a wonderful spectacle, but some scientists were out gathering data, too. Holly Oldroyd, assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, joined a team led by Chad Higgins at Oregon State University to measure atmospheric fluxes during the eclipse.

As night turns to day and back there are changes in atmospheric temperature and pressure, water vapor and carbon dioxide, and in emissions from soils and plants into the atmosphere. Higgins’ experiment aimed to find out whether the same kinds of changes take place during the very short “night” created by the total solar eclipse. Normally these measurements are taken over time spans of half an hour or so, so the team, which also included researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, had to come up with ways to make accurate measurements over a couple of minutes.