Year of publication
- 2012 (2) (remove)
- The magnetite-based receptors in the beak of birds and their role in avian navigation (2012)
- Iron-rich structures have been described in the beak of homing pigeons, chickens and several species of migratory birds and interpreted as magnetoreceptors. Here, we will briefly review findings associated with these receptors that throw light on their nature, their function and their role in avian navigation. Electrophysiological recordings from the ophthalmic nerve, behavioral studies and a ZENK-study indicate that the trigeminal system, the nerves innervating the beak, mediate information on magnetic changes, with the electrophysiological study suggesting that these are changes in intensity. Behavioral studies support the involvement of magnetite and the trigeminal system in magnetoreception, but clearly show that the inclination compass normally used by birds represents a separate system. However, if this compass is disrupted by certain light conditions, migrating birds show 'fixed direction' responses to the magnetic field, which originate in the receptors in the beak. Together, these findings point out that there are magnetite-based magnetoreceptors located in the upper beak close to the skin. Their natural function appears to be recording magnetic intensity and thus providing one component of the multi-factorial 'navigational map' of birds.
- 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.