Birds can turn their perception of the Earth’s magnetic field on and off •


Researchers at Western’s Advanced Facility for Avian Research (AFAR) have made a remarkable discovery about birds: they can literally move their brain switches to sense the Earth’s magnetic field.

This study sheds new light on an interesting aspect of migratory bird navigation. It highlights the importance of a brain region known as the “N cluster” for processing global magnetic information.

For context, it’s important to realize that Earth’s magnetic field extends far into space. This protective layer formed by the flow of molten iron within the inner core. It acts as a shield against harmful cosmic rays emitted by the sun.

But for members of the animal kingdom This invisible power is natural GPS. Salmon, sea turtles and migratory birds use magnetic fields to navigate vast distances.

How and why this process happens is quite a mystery. The new study, led by PhD candidate Madeleine Brodbeck and AFAR co-director Scott MacDougall-Shackleton, suggests a new study. has begun to unravel this mystery. The research focuses on the white-necked sparrow.

what the researchers found

The team found that these birds had the ability to activate Cluster N in their brains at night when they were stimulated to migrate. This activation allows birds to avoid prey and fly during cooler periods. But birds can also calm the area when they’re ready to rest.

“This brain region is critical for activating the geomagnetic compass,” Brodbeck explains. This is especially true for songbirds when they migrate at night.” The study provides the first evidence of the functioning of this brain region in a North American bird species. and builds on previous work carried out mainly in Europe.

For decades, the Earth’s magnetic field has attracted not only physicists and aerospace engineers, but also scientists and engineers. But also creativity. inspired the works of famous science fiction writer Frank Herbert and Stephen King The concept of invisible forces that guide our movement. which human beings cannot see at all It’s still a fascination for Brodbeck as well.

“The magnetic field is really amazing. because they are invisible to humans We cannot see or touch them. But most animals sense them in one way or another,” Brodbeck said.

importance of education

in navigation and migration Birds rely not only on the Earth’s magnetic field. but also relying on visual guidance from the sun and stars Unfortunately, our increasingly urbanized landscape. Adorned with artificial lighting and skyscrapers made of glass. disrupting their migration routes

“This type of fundamental research informs us and gives us insight into how animals perceive the world as they migrate. and what we as humans need to do to minimize our impact,” said Professor MacDougall-Shackleton.

He stressed that understanding the physical mechanisms of animal movement is not just academic. It is fundamentally important to understand, and perhaps diminish, the ways in which human actions influence their journey.


This groundbreaking study was published in European Journal of NeuroscienceIt underscores the need for continued exploration of the complex mechanisms that drive animal behavior. It also provides perspective on our responsibilities to the inhabitants of our planet. Because our actions will inevitably leave footprints on their migration paths.

More about the Earth’s magnetic field

The Earth’s magnetic field is an invisible force that extends from the interior of the planet out into space. It arises from the flow of molten iron and nickel in the planet’s outer core. which generates electric current which, in turn, generates a magnetic field. This is called the dynamo effect.

The Earth’s magnetic field is important for many reasons.

protection against solar radiation

Magnetic fields protect the Earth from harmful solar radiation. Without it, life as we know it wouldn’t exist. because the atmosphere will be blown away by the solar wind which is a stream of charged particles from the sun

help in navigation

The Earth’s magnetic field creates north and south magnetic poles that are slightly opposite each other from the geographic poles. These magnetic poles are the basis for magnetic navigation. It is used by both humans and many animals. Animals such as birds, sea turtles, and even some bacteria can sense the Earth’s magnetic field and use it to navigate.

Aurora creation

The Earth’s magnetic field is responsible for phenomena such as the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and Aurora Australis (Southern Lights). These occur when charged particles from the Sun become trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field and collide with atoms and molecules in the mantle. atmosphere make them emit light

Earth’s magnetic field is unstable. over the millions of years There have been many reversals. in which the north and south magnetic poles switch The last reversal, known as the Brunhess-Matuyama reversal, occurred about 780,000 years ago.

Scientists are still investigating why these reversals occur. But changes in the flow of molten iron and nickel in the outer core are believed to be responsible.

even though it’s important But there are still many mysteries about the Earth’s magnetic field. While studies like those at Western’s Advanced Facility for Avian Research (AFAR) are ongoing, Our understanding of this complex and important part of the world will continue to grow.


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