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Olfactory discrimination ability of South African fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus) for enantiomers

Abstract

Using a food-rewarded two-choice instrumental conditioning paradigm we assessed the ability of South African fur seals, Arctocephalus pusillus, to discriminate between 12 enantiomeric odor pairs. The results demonstrate that the fur seals as a group were able to discriminate between the optical isomers of carvone, dihydrocarvone, dihydrocarveol, menthol, limonene oxide, α-pinene, fenchone (all p < 0.01), and β-citronellol (p < 0.05), whereas they failed to distinguish between the (+)- and (−)-forms of limonene, isopulegol, rose oxide, and camphor (all p > 0.05). An analysis of odor structure–activity relationships suggests that a combination of molecular structural properties rather than a single molecular feature may be responsible for the discriminability of enantiomeric odor pairs. A comparison between the discrimination performance of the fur seals and that of other species tested previously on the same set of enantiomers (or subsets thereof) suggests that the olfactory discrimination capabilities of this marine mammal are surprisingly well developed and not generally inferior to that of terrestrial mammals such as human subjects and non-human primates. Further, comparisons suggest that neither the relative nor the absolute size of the olfactory bulbs appear to be reliable predictors of between-species differences in olfactory discrimination capabilities. Taken together, the results of the present study support the notion that the sense of smell may play an important and hitherto underestimated role in regulating the behavior of fur seals.

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Acknowledgments

Sunna Edberg, Therese Höglin, Tova Hansson and Christina Bauer are gratefully acknowledged for invaluable help in handling and training of the animals.

Ethical standards

The experiments reported here comply with the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (National Institutes of Health Publication no. 86-23, revised 1985) and also with current Swedish laws.

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Correspondence to Matthias Laska.

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Kim, S., Amundin, M. & Laska, M. Olfactory discrimination ability of South African fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus) for enantiomers. J Comp Physiol A 199, 535–544 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-012-0759-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-012-0759-5

Keywords

  • Olfactory discrimination
  • Enantiomers
  • South African fur seals
  • Arctocephalus pusillus
  • Marine mammals