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Information from the geomagnetic field triggers a reduced adrenocortical response in a migratory bird

, : Information from the geomagnetic field triggers a reduced adrenocortical response in a migratory bird. Journal of Experimental Biology 212(18): 2902-2907

Long-distance migrants regularly pass ecological barriers, like the Sahara desert, where extensive fuel loads are necessary for a successful crossing. A central question is how inexperienced migrants know when to put on extensive fuel loads. Beside the endogenous rhythm, external cues have been suggested to be important. Geomagnetic information has been shown to trigger changes in foraging behaviour and fuel deposition rate in migratory birds. The underlying mechanism for these adjustments, however, is not well understood. As the glucocorticoid hormone corticosterone is known to correlate with behaviour and physiology related to energy regulation in birds, we here investigated the effect of geomagnetic cues on circulating corticosterone levels in a long-distance migrant. Just as in earlier studies, juvenile thrush nightingales (Luscinia luscinia) caught during autumn migration and exposed to the simulated geomagnetic field of northern Egypt increased food intake and attained higher fuel loads than control birds experiencing the ambient magnetic field of southeast Sweden. Our results further show that experimental birds faced a reduced adrenocortical response compared with control birds, thus for the first time implying that geomagnetic cues trigger changes in hormonal secretion enabling appropriate behaviour along the migratory route.


PMID: 19717671

DOI: 10.1242/jeb.033332

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