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Uncovering how animals use combinations of magnetic field properties to navigate: a computational approach

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Certain animal species use the earth’s magnetic field (i.e., magnetoreception) in conjunction with other sensory modalities to navigate long distances. It is hypothesized that several animals use combinations of magnetic inclination and intensity as unique signatures for localization, potentially enabling migration without a pre-surveyed map. However, it is unknown how animals use magnetic signatures to generate guidance commands. While animal experiments have been invaluable in advancing this area, it is a difficult phenomenon to study in vivo or in situ. Modeling and simulation present a powerful complementary tool that can be used to investigate whether and how animals use magnetic signatures to navigate. This perspective article summarizes work we have conducted that systematically and mechanistically uses modeling and simulation to study the use of magnetic signatures. We have studied this phenomenon from simulated agents that navigate in simple and abstract environments, to physical devices that navigate in realistic environments. The results have consistently demonstrated that this is a plausible way in which animals might navigate, and provided early insights into the environmental and animal-specific factors that are most important to this navigation strategy.

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This work was supported in part by a grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (FA9550-20-1-0399), the UNC SMART program, NC Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. NSF grant- A20-1175, and internal grant funding from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Correspondence to Brian Taylor.

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Pizzuti, S., Bernish, M., Harvey, A. et al. Uncovering how animals use combinations of magnetic field properties to navigate: a computational approach. J Comp Physiol A 208, 155–166 (2022).

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