Wood Mice Use Unexpected Mechanism for Magnetoreception
In migratory birds it has been known for more than half a century: They use the earth's magnetic field to orient during the long journey towards winter- or breeding grounds. But also mammals do have a magnetic sense. The most famous representative is the subterraneous mole-rat which probably employs the magnetic sense to navigate in its featureless and dark environment.
Since the first demonstration of the mole-rat magnetic sense in the early 1990s, this highly specialized rodent species has become a model organism for studies on magnetoreception in mammals. It was unclear, however, if and to what extant the results would apply to other mammals, since mole-rats are highly adapted to their subterraneous ecotope. For this reason, an international team around UDE-researcher Dr. E. Pascal Malkemper investigated the magnetic sense of the surface dwelling, less specialized European wood mouse and obtained astonishing results.
The receptor mechanism used by the wood mice seems to be distinctly different from that of their subterraneous relatives and instead bear similarities to the magnetic sense of migratory birds. Like the birds, but in contrast to mole-rats, the wood mice were influenced by weak electromagnetic radiation in the radiofrequency range, as it is commonly present in larger cities. The new insights pave the way for further characterization of the magnetoreceptors, which so far have not been undisputedly described in any animal species. The results were published in Nature's open access Journal Scientific Reports.