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Book Chapter

Magnetoreception in mammals

MPS-Authors

Malkemper,  Erich Pascal
Max Planck Research Group Neurobiology of Magnetoreception, Center of Advanced European Studies and Research (caesar), Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Burda, H., Begall, S., Hart, V., Malkemper, E. P., Painter, M. S., & Phillips, J. B. (2020). Magnetoreception in mammals. In J. Stein (Ed.), Reference Module in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Psychology. Amsterdam: Elsevier. doi:doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-809324-5.24131-X.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-4230-9
Abstract
Synopsis In comparison to birds, magnetoreception in mammals has been understudied. We summarize the paradigms that have been applied in the study of mammalian magnetoreception and provide an overview of mammalian taxa in which magnetoreception has been studied. We discuss putative sensory mechanisms and the biological significance of the magnetic sense with respect to sensory ecology. Few studies have investigated the magnetic field's role in migratory orientation and homing of mammals, yet there is also evidence that magnetic cues are used in the context of “everyday life”.
In comparison to birds, magnetoreception in mammals has been understudied. This negligence has historical and methodological causes. Paradigms that have been applied in the study of magnetoreception in mammals (particularly, and among others, spontaneous or conditioned nest-building assay, magnetic alignment, maze studies and direction choice tests, telemetry studies of homing and other aspects of movement ecology) are described and discussed. We also provide an overview of mammalian taxa in which magnetoreception has been studied and indicate potential receptor mechanisms and methods of their testing. We discuss the biological significance of the magnetic sense with respect to sensory ecology and putative sensory mechanisms, and show that magnetic field cues are used not only for navigation (in the context of homing or migration) but also in the context of “everyday life” in many species that are generally considered to be non-migratory. The magnetic field may provide mammals with a heading (direction) indicator to synchronize group movement (e.g., during escape) or to keep the course of digging in subterranean mammals. Assuming that the cognitive map is fixed in alignment with the magnetic field lines, the alignment strategy may help animals to reliably and accurately “read” their cognitive maps and/or extend the range of their maps when exploring unfamiliar environments. Besides that, magnetoreception might be helpful to measure distance or slope. Regular oscillations of the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field could provide a zeitgeber to synchronize biological rhythm in dark ecotopes (underground burrows or caves).