Spontaneous expression of magnetic compass orientation in an epigeic rodent: the bank vole, Clethrionomys glareolus
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Magnetoreception has been convincingly demonstrated in only a few mammalian species. Among rodents, magnetic compass orientation has been documented in four species of subterranean mole rats and two epigeic (i.e. active above ground) species—the Siberian hamster and the C57BL/6J mouse. The mole rats use the magnetic field azimuth to determine compass heading; their directional preference is spontaneous and unimodal, and their magnetic compass is magnetite-mediated. By contrast, the primary component of orientation response is learned in the hamster and the mouse, but both species also exhibit a weak spontaneous bimodal preference in the natural magnetic field. To determine whether the magnetic compass of wild epigeic rodents features the same functional properties as that of laboratory rodents, we investigated magnetic compass orientation in the bank vole Clethrionomys glareolus (Cricetidae, Rodentia). The voles exhibited a robust spontaneous bimodal directional preference, i.e. built nests and slept preferentially along the north-south axis, and deflected their directional preference according to a shift in the direction of magnetic north, clearly indicating that they were deriving directional information from the magnetic field. Thus, bimodal, axially symmetrical directional choice seems to be a common feature shared by epigeic rodents. However, spontaneous directional preference in the bank vole appeared to be more pronounced than that reported in the hamster and the mouse. These findings suggest that bank voles are well suited for future studies investigating the adaptive significance and mechanisms of magnetic orientation in epigeic rodents.
KeywordsSpatial orientation Magnetoreception Magnetite-based mechanism Radical pair-based mechanism Bank vole
We cordially thank Radka Peskova for taking care of the bank voles in the breeding colony at the University of South Bohemia, Vitezslav Stranak for measuring light spectra, and Frantisek Hruska, Jaroslav Vojta and Jiri Base for measuring extremely low- and radio-frequency electromagnetic fields. The study was supported by the Grant Agency of the University of South Bohemia [136/2010/P to L.O., 159/2013/P to F.S.] and the Grant Agency of Charles University [116510 to P.N.].
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