Anosmia impairs homing orientation but not foraging behaviour in free-ranging shearwaters.
Padget O., Dell'Ariccia G., Gagliardo A., González-Solís J., Guilford T.
Shearwaters deprived of their olfactory sense before being displaced to distant sites have impaired homing ability but it is unknown what the role of olfaction is when birds navigate freely without their sense of smell. Furthermore, treatments used to induce anosmia and to disrupt magneto-reception in displacement experiments might influence non-specific factors not directly related to navigation and, as a consequence, the results of displacement experiments can have multiple interpretations. To address this, we GPS-tracked the free-ranging foraging trips of incubating Scopoli's shearwaters within the Mediterranean Sea. As in previous experiments, shearwaters were either made anosmic with 4% zinc sulphate solution, magnetically impaired by attachment of a strong neodymium magnet or were controls. We found that birds from all three treatments embarked on foraging trips, had indistinguishable at-sea schedules of behaviour and returned to the colony having gained mass. However, we found that in the pelagic return stage of their foraging trips, anosmic birds were not oriented towards the colony though coastal navigation was unaffected. These results support the case for zinc sulphate having a specific effect on the navigational ability of shearwaters and thus the view that seabirds consult an olfactory map to guide them across seascapes.