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Biol Bull. 2000 Apr;198(2):245-53.

Olfactory foraging by Antarctic procellariiform seabirds: life at high Reynolds numbers.

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Section of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, University of California, Davis 95616, USA.


Antarctic procellariiform seabirds forage over vast stretches of open ocean in search of patchily distributed prey resources. These seabirds are unique in that most species have anatomically well-developed olfactory systems and are thought to have an excellent sense of smell. Results from controlled experiments performed at sea near South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic indicate that different species of procellariiforms are sensitive to a variety of scented compounds associated with their primary prey. These include krill-related odors (pyrazines and trimethylamine) as well as odors more closely associated with phytoplankton (dimethyl sulfide, DMS). Data collected in the context of global climatic regulation suggest that at least one of these odors (DMS) tends to be associated with predictable bathymetry, including upwelling zones and seamounts. Such odor features are not ephemeral but can be present for days or weeks. I suggest that procellariiforms foraging over vast distances may be able to recognize these features reflected in the olfactory landscape over the ocean. On the large scale, such features may aid seabirds in navigation or in locating profitable foraging grounds. Once in a profitable foraging area, procellariiforms may use olfactory cues on a small scale to assist them in locating prey patches.

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