Magnetic compass of garden warblers is not affected by oscillating magnetic fields applied to their eyes

Authors: Julia Bojarinova, Kirill Kavokin, Alexander Pakhomov, Roman Cherbunin, Anna Anashina, Maria Erokhina, Maria Ershova & Nikita Chernetsv

Year: 2020

Publication: Scientific Reports

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Abstract: The magnetic compass is an important element of the avian navigation system, which allows migratory birds to solve complex tasks of moving between distant breeding and wintering locations. The photochemical magnetoreception in the eye is believed to be the primary biophysical mechanism
behind the magnetic sense of birds. It was shown previously that birds were disoriented in presence of weak oscillating magnetic fields (OMF) with frequencies in the megahertz range. The OMF effect was considered to be a fingerprint of the photochemical magnetoreception in the eye. In this work, we used miniaturized portable magnetic coils attached to the bird’s head to specifically target the compass receptor. We performed behavioural experiments on orientation of long-distance migrants, garden warblers (Sylvia borin), in round arenas. The OMF with the amplitude of about 5 nT was applied locally to the birds’ eyes. Surprisingly, the birds were not disoriented and showed the seasonally appropriate migratory direction. On the contrary, the same birds placed in a homogeneous 5 nT OMF generated by large stationary coils showed clear disorientation. On the basis of these findings, we suggest that the disruption of magnetic orientation of birds by oscillating magnetic fields is not related to photochemical magnetoreceptors in their eyes.

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