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Long-distance navigation and magnetoreception in migratory animals

Abstract

For centuries, humans have been fascinated by how migratory animals find their way over thousands of kilometres. Here, I review the mechanisms used in animal orientation and navigation with a particular focus on long-distance migrants and magnetoreception. I contend that any long-distance navigational task consists of three phases and that no single cue or mechanism will enable animals to navigate with pinpoint accuracy over thousands of kilometres. Multiscale and multisensory cue integration in the brain is needed. I conclude by raising twenty important mechanistic questions related to long-distance animal navigation that should be solved over the next twenty years.

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Fig. 1: Some of the world’s most famous long-distance navigators.
Fig. 2: The three different phases of a long-distance navigational task and examples of the typical cues used.
Fig. 3: A mechanical analogy of the radical-pair mechanism.

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful to many of the key scientists working in the field of animal navigation and magnetoreception, including all my colleagues and associated members of the proposed collaborative research centre SFB 1372, for inspiration and discussions, for commenting on earlier drafts of this manuscript, and for providing valuable input to various sections of the review. Funding was provided by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (Air Force Material Command, USAF award no. FA9550-14-1-0095 and FA9550-14-1-0242), the DFG (Graduiertenkolleg 1885, SFB 1372), the ‘Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kultur’ (Landesgraduiertenkolleg Nano-Energieforschung), and the University of Oldenburg.

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Nature thanks S. Åkesson, J. Chapman and J. Phillips for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Mouritsen, H. Long-distance navigation and magnetoreception in migratory animals. Nature 558, 50–59 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0176-1

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