Navigational abilities of homing pigeons deprived of olfactory or trigeminally mediated magnetic information when young

Anna Gagliardo, Paolo Ioalè, Maria Savini, Martin Wild
Journal of Experimental Biology 2008, 211: 2046-51
Anatomical evidence and conditioning experiments have recently suggested that magnetoreceptors are located in the upper beak of homing pigeons, where they are innervated by the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve. These findings have raised the issue of whether the trigeminally mediated magnetoreception is involved in the navigational mechanisms of homing pigeons. Recent data have shown that, in inexperienced pigeons, section of the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve does not impair navigational abilities, whereas the navigational performance of inexperienced pigeons is disrupted after section of the olfactory nerve. Nevertheless, the issue of whether the stimuli available during development of the navigational mechanism can influence the types of cues used in determining the direction of displacement remains unresolved. To address this issue, we surgically deprived young pigeons of either olfactory or trigeminally mediated magnetic information, and then later tested their navigational abilities subsequent to an intensive training flight program of up to 10 km in different directions. The birds deprived of trigeminally mediated magnetic information when young developed navigational abilities at the same level as intact control pigeons, whereas the olfactory deprived pigeons displayed randomly scattered initial orientation and poor homing performance. Our data show that olfactory cues are needed for the development of navigational abilities from unfamiliar locations and that the lack of magnetic information does not affect the development of homing abilities.

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