Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A sniff too far...

Remember my previous post about 'Doesn't smell right' where researchers were suggesting that birds migrated by sense of smell (Jan 29th) - and I thought it was a load of nonsense. Well, now comes a publication that potentially explains their results. In "PLoS ONE" German researchers publish data on the finding of a 'magnetometer' in the upper beak of (many) birds which could potential act to measure the vector of the earth's magnetic field (by intensity and inclination), whereby a bird can map its' exact position anywhere on the globe. Using some fancy non-destructive science they have been able to show that the upper beak contains a network of iron containing nerve branches which, they say, will be able to encode the earths magnetic field. Viola, bird migration explained!?
So, back to the nasal wash-outs - the wash-out may (also) affect a birds sense of smell but, more importantly, it probably primarily affects functioning of this 'magnetometer' - which is then responsible for a change in migration pattern.
See: Falkenberg G, Fleissner Ge, Schuchardt K, Kuehbacher M, Thalau P, et al. (2010) Avian Magnetoreception: Elaborate Iron Mineral Containing Dendrites in the Upper Beak Seem to Be a Common Feature of Birds. PLoS ONE 5(2): e9231. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009231 (plosone@plos.org)

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