Olfactory lateralization in homing pigeons: initial orientation of birds receiving a unilateral olfactory input

Anna Gagliardo, Tommaso Pecchia, Maria Savini, Francesca Odetti, Paolo Ioalè, Giorgio Vallortigara
European Journal of Neuroscience 2007, 25 (5): 1511-6
It has been shown that homing pigeons (Columba livia) rely on olfactory cues to navigate from unfamiliar locations. In fact, the integrity of the olfactory system, from the olfactory mucosa to the piriform cortex, is required for pigeons to navigate over unfamiliar areas. Recently it has been shown that there is a functional asymmetry in the piriform cortex, with the left piriform cortex more involved in the use of the olfactory navigational map than the right piriform cortex. To investigate further the lateralization of the olfactory system in relation to navigational processes in carrier pigeons, we compared their homing performance after either their left or the right nostril was plugged. Contrary to our expectations, we observed an impairment in the initial orientation of the pigeons with their right nostril plugged. However, both groups released with one nostril plugged tended to be poorer than control pigeons in their homing performance. The observed asymmetry in favour of the right nostril might be due to projections from the olfactory bulbs to the contralateral globus pallidum, a structure involved in motor responses.

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