- Development of lateralization of the magnetic compass in a migratory bird (2012)
- The magnetic compass of a migratory bird, the European robin (Erithacus rubecula), was shown to be lateralized in favour of the right eye/left brain hemisphere. However, this seems to be a property of the avian magnetic compass that is not present from the beginning, but develops only as the birds grow older. During first migration in autumn, juvenile robins can orient by their magnetic compass with their right as well as with their left eye. In the following spring, however, the magnetic compass is already lateralized, but this lateralization is still flexible: it could be removed by covering the right eye for 6 h. During the following autumn migration, the lateralization becomes more strongly fixed, with a 6 h occlusion of the right eye no longer having an effect. This change from a bilateral to a lateralized magnetic compass appears to be a maturation process, the first such case known so far in birds. Because both eyes mediate identical information about the geomagnetic field, brain asymmetry for the magnetic compass could increase efficiency by setting the other hemisphere free for other processes.
- Interaction of magnetite-based receptors in the beak with the visual system underlying "fixed direction" responses in birds (2010)
- Background: European robins, Erithacus rubecula, show two types of directional responses to the magnetic field: (1) compass orientation that is based on radical pair processes and lateralized in favor of the right eye and (2) so-called 'fixed direction' responses that originate in the magnetite-based receptors in the upper beak. Both responses are light-dependent. Lateralization of the 'fixed direction' responses would suggest an interaction between the two magnetoreception systems. Results: Robins were tested with either the right or the left eye covered or with both eyes uncovered for their orientation under different light conditions. With 502 nm turquoise light, the birds showed normal compass orientation, whereas they displayed an easterly 'fixed direction' response under a combination of 502 nm turquoise with 590 nm yellow light. Monocularly right-eyed birds with their left eye covered were oriented just as they were binocularly as controls: under turquoise in their northerly migratory direction, under turquoise-and-yellow towards east. The response of monocularly left-eyed birds differed: under turquoise light, they were disoriented, reflecting a lateralization of the magnetic compass system in favor of the right eye, whereas they continued to head eastward under turquoise-and-yellow light. Conclusion: 'Fixed direction' responses are not lateralized. Hence the interactions between the magnetite-receptors in the beak and the visual system do not seem to involve the magnetoreception system based on radical pair processes, but rather other, non-lateralized components of the visual system.