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PLoS One. 2013 Oct 23;8(10):e77102. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077102. eCollection 2013.

Altered orientation and flight paths of pigeons reared on gravity anomalies: a GPS tracking study.

Author information

1
Institute of Anatomy, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.

Abstract

The mechanisms of pigeon homing are still not understood, in particular how they determine their position at unfamiliar locations. The "gravity vector" theory holds that pigeons memorize the gravity vector at their home loft and deduct home direction and distance from the angular difference between memorized and actual gravity vector. However, the gravity vector is tilted by different densities in the earth crust leading to gravity anomalies. We predicted that pigeons reared on different gravity anomalies would show different initial orientation and also show changes in their flight path when crossing a gravity anomaly. We reared one group of pigeons in a strong gravity anomaly with a north-to-south gravity gradient, and the other group of pigeons in a normal area but on a spot with a strong local anomaly with a west-to-east gravity gradient. After training over shorter distances, pigeons were released from a gravitationally and geomagnetically normal site 50 km north in the same direction for both home lofts. As expected by the theory, the two groups of pigeons showed divergent initial orientation. In addition, some of the GPS-tracked pigeons also showed changes in their flight paths when crossing gravity anomalies. We conclude that even small local gravity anomalies at the birth place of pigeons may have the potential to bias the map sense of pigeons, while reactivity to gravity gradients during flight was variable and appeared to depend on individual navigational strategies and frequency of position updates.

PMID:
24194860
PMCID:
PMC3806762
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0077102
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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