Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 193, Issue 5, pp 515–522 | Cite as

Magnetite-based magnetoreception: the effect of repeated pulsing on the orientation of migratory birds

  • Wolfgang WiltschkoEmail author
  • Hugh Ford
  • Ursula Munro
  • Michael Winklhofer
  • Roswitha Wiltschko
Original Paper


Previous studies have shown that a magnetic pulse affected the orientation of passerine migrants for a short period only: for about 3 days, the birds’ headings were deflected eastward from their migratory direction, followed by a phase of disorientation, with the birds returning to their normal migratory direction after about 10 days. To analyze the processes involved in the fading of the pulse effect, migratory birds were subjected to a second, identical pulse 16 days after the first pulse, when the effect of that pulse had disappeared. This second pulse affected the birds’ behavior in a different way: it caused an increase in the scatter of the birds’ headings for 2 days, after which the birds showed normal migratory orientation again. These observations are at variance with the hypothesis that the magnetite-based receptor had been fully restored, but also with the hypothesis that the input of this receptor was ignored. They rather indicate dynamic processes, which include changes in the affected receptor, but at the same time cause the birds to weigh and rate the altered input differently. The bearing of these findings on the question of whether single domains or superparamagnetic particles are involved in the magnetite-based receptors is discussed.


Migratory orientation Magnetic pulse Magnetite Magnetite-based receptors Zosterops l. lateralis 



Our work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (grant to W.W.) and by the Australian Research Council (ARC large grant to U.M.). We thank Fritz Geiser, University of New England, Armidale, for logistic help, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions. The experiments were performed according to the rules and regulations on animal protection in Australia.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wolfgang Wiltschko
    • 1
    Email author
  • Hugh Ford
    • 2
  • Ursula Munro
    • 3
  • Michael Winklhofer
    • 4
  • Roswitha Wiltschko
    • 1
  1. 1.Fachbereich Biowissenschaften der J.W. Goethe-UniversitätFrankfurt am MainGermany
  2. 2.Division of Zoology, School of Environmental Sciences and Natural Resources ManagementUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of TechnologySydneyAustralia
  4. 4.Department für Geo- und UmweltwissenschaftenLudwig-Maximillians-Universität MünchenMunichGermany

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