Among the most accomplished navigators in the animal kingdom, sea turtles often migrate across thousands of miles of open ocean to arrive at specific feeding and nesting sites. How they do so, however, has mystified biologists for over a century.
Now, new findings by a research team headed by Drs. Kenneth and Catherine Lohmann, marine biologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, indicate that the navigational ability of sea turtles is based at least partly on a "magnetic map" -- a remarkable ability to read geographic position from subtle variations in the Earth’s magnetic field.
Previous work by the group showed that baby sea turtles can use magnetic information as a built-in compass to help guide them during their first migration across the Atlantic Ocean. Their latest studies reveal that older turtles use the Earth’s field in a different, far more sophisticated way: to help pinpoint their location relative to specific target areas, the scientists say. In effect, older turtles have a biological equivalent of a global positioning system (GPS), but the turtle version is based on magnetism.
David Williamson | UNC News Services
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