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Abstract

The Earth’s magnetic field potentially provides information which can help animals to navigate over both short and long distances. Magnetic information can be useful to determine position (i.e., as part of a map sense) and for determining a favorable direction of movement (i.e., as part of a compass sense). An amazing variety of organisms has been shown to use the geomagnetic field to gather spatial information. Most research has focussed on compass orientation in migratory birds, map-based navigation in homing pigeons and sea turtles, and various magnetic behaviors in amphibians, but there is growing evidence that many other organisms including some mammals can sense magnetic information. Sensing magnetic fields as weak as that of the Earth is not easy using only biological materials. Three basic mechanisms can be considered: iron mineral-based magnetoreception, radical-pair-based magnetoreception, and induction in highly sensitive electric sensors. In recent years, strong evidence has been accumulated that both, iron mineral-based magnetoreception and radical-pair-based magnetoreception mechanisms exist in nature, and some animals seem to possess both types of magnetic senses. In both of these senses, plausible candidate molecules have been identified and a few brain areas involved in processing magnetic information have been identified. Despite substantial progress, we are still far away from understanding the detailed function of any magnetic sense. Many possibilities for groundbreaking research still await the scientific community in the field of magnetoreception and -perception.

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Correspondence to Henrik Mouritsen .

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Mouritsen, H. (2013). The Magnetic Senses. In: Galizia, C., Lledo, PM. (eds) Neurosciences - From Molecule to Behavior: a university textbook. Springer Spektrum, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-10769-6_20

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