Lateralization of the avian magnetic compass : analysis of its early plasticity

Gehring, Dennis ; Gunturkun, Onur ; Wiltschko, Wolfgang ; Wiltschko, Roswitha (2017)

CITATION: Gehring, D., et al. 2017. Lateralization of the avian magnetic compass : analysis of its early plasticity. Symmetry, 9(5):77, doi:10.3390/sym9050077.

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In European Robins, Erithacus rubecula, the magnetic compass is lateralized in favor of the right eye/left hemisphere of the brain. This lateralization develops during the first winter and initially shows a great plasticity. During the first spring migration, it can be temporarily removed by covering the right eye. In the present paper, we used the migratory orientation of robins to analyze the circumstances under which the lateralization can be undone. Already a period of 11/2 h being monocularly left-eyed before tests began proved sufficient to restore the ability to use the left eye for orientation, but this effect was rather short-lived, as lateralization recurred again within the next 11/2 h. Interpretable magnetic information mediated by the left eye was necessary for removing the lateralization. In addition, monocularly, the left eye seeing robins could adjust to magnetic intensities outside the normal functional window, but this ability was not transferred to the “right-eye system”. Our results make it clear that asymmetry of magnetic compass perception is amenable to short-term changes, depending on lateralized stimulation. This could mean that the left hemispheric dominance for the analysis of magnetic compass information depends on lateralized interhemispheric interactions that in young birds can swiftly be altered by environmental effects.

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