Magnetic maps in animals: nature's GPS

The Journal of Experimental Biology
Kenneth J LohmannNathan F Putman

Abstract

Diverse animals detect the Earth's magnetic field and use it as a cue in orientation and navigation. Most research on magnetoreception has focused on the directional or ;compass' information that can be extracted from the Earth's field. Because the field varies predictably across the surface of the globe, however, it also provides a potential source of positional or 'map' information, which some animals use to steer themselves along migratory pathways or to navigate toward specific target areas. The use of magnetic positional information has been demonstrated in several diverse animals including sea turtles, spiny lobsters, newts and birds, suggesting that such systems are phylogenetically widespread and can function over a wide range of spatial scales. These ;magnetic maps' have not yet been fully characterized. They may be organized in several fundamentally different ways, some of which bear little resemblance to human maps, and they may also be used in conjunction with unconventional navigational strategies.

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