Neurobiologists have discovered a specialized night-vision brain area in night-migratory songbirds. They believe the area might enable the birds to navigate by the stars, and to visually detect the earths magnetic field through photoreceptor molecules, whose light-sensitivity is modulated by the field.
The researchers published their findings May 23, 2005, in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The collaboration was led by Henrik Mouritsen of the University of Oldenberg in Germany and Erich Jarvis of the Duke University Medical Center. Other co-authors were Gesa Feenders and Miriam Liedvogel in Mouritsens laboratory and Kazuhiro Wada in Jarviss laboratory. The research was supported by the VolkswagenStiftung to Mouritsen and the National Science Foundations Waterman Award to Jarvis.
To migrate successfully over thousands of miles at night, night-migratory birds need to see where they fly, as well as navigate by stars and the earths magnetic field. Surprisingly, Jarvis said, recent scientific evidence has suggested that birds have specialized molecules in their visual system that translate magnetic compass information into visual patterns. Thus, , the researchers hypothesized that night migratory birds would need a specialized night-vision brain area.
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