Now, researchers from the universities of Oxford, Barcelona and Pisa have shown in a new experiment that olfaction — or sense of smell — is almost certainly a key factor in long-distance oceanic navigation, eliminating previous misgivings about this hypothesis.
The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Study leader Oliver Padget, a doctoral candidate in Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, said: ‘Navigation over the ocean is probably the extreme challenge for birds, given the long distances covered, the changing environment, and the lack of stable landmarks. Previous experiments have focused on the physical displacement of birds, combined with some form of sensory manipulation such as magnetic or olfactory deprivation. Evidence from these experiments has suggested that removing a bird’s sense of smell impairs homing, whereas disruption of the magnetic sense has yielded inconclusive results.
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