Abstracts relating to animal behaviour: orientation in magnetic fields and sensing of power lines

Orientation in magnetic fields

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Sep 9;105(36):13451-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0803650105. Epub 2008 Aug 25.
Magnetic alignment in grazing and resting cattle and deer.
Begall S1, Cerveny J, Neef J, Vojtech O, Burda H. 

Erratum in Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Nov 4;105(44):17206.Abstract

We demonstrate by means of simple, noninvasive methods (analysis of satellite images, field observations, and measuring "deer beds" in snow) that domestic cattle (n = 8,510 in 308 pastures) across the globe, and grazing and resting red and roe deer (n = 2,974 at 241 localities), align their body axes in roughly a north-south direction. Direct observations of roe deer revealed that animals orient their heads northward when grazing or resting. Amazingly, this ubiquitous phenomenon does not seem to have been noticed by herdsmen, ranchers, or hunters. Because wind and light conditions could be excluded as a common denominator determining the body axis orientation, magnetic alignment is the most parsimonious explanation. To test the hypothesis that cattle orient their body axes along the field lines of the Earth's magnetic field, we analyzed the body orientation of cattle from localities with high magnetic declination. Here, magnetic north was a better predictor than geographic north. This study reveals the magnetic alignment in large mammals based on statistically sufficient sample sizes. Our findings open horizons for the study of magnetoreception in general and are of potential significance for applied ethology (husbandry, animal welfare). They challenge neuroscientists and biophysics to explain the proximate mechanisms.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Apr 7;106(14):5708-13. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0811194106. Epub 2009 Mar 19.
Extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields disrupt magnetic alignment of ruminants.
Burda H, Begall S, Cervený J, Neef J, Nemec P. 

AbstractResting and grazing cattle and deer tend to align their body axes in the geomagnetic North-South direction. The mechanism(s) that underlie this behavior remain unknown. Here, we show that extremely low-frequency magnetic fields (ELFMFs) generated by high-voltage power lines disrupt alignment of the bodies of these animals with the geomagnetic field. Body orientation of cattle and roe deer was random on pastures under or near power lines. Moreover, cattle exposed to various magnetic fields directly beneath or in the vicinity of power lines trending in various magnetic directions exhibited distinct patterns of alignment. The disturbing effect of the ELFMFs on body alignment diminished with the distance from conductors. These findings constitute evidence for magnetic sensation in large mammals as well as evidence of an overt behavioral reaction to weak ELFMFs in vertebrates. The demonstrated reaction to weak ELFMFs implies effects at the cellular and molecular levels.

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2011 Jun;197(6):677-82. doi: 10.1007/s00359-011-0628-7. Epub 2011 Feb 12.
No alignment of cattle along geomagnetic field lines found.
Hert J, Jelinek L, Pekarek L, Pavlicek A. 

AbstractThis paper presents a study of the body orientation of domestic cattle on free pastures in several European states, based on the Google satellite photographs. In sum, 232 herds with 3,412 individuals were evaluated. Two independent groups participated in our study and came to the same conclusion that in contradiction to the recent findings of other researchers, no alignment of the animals and of their herds along geomagnetic field lines could be found. Several possible reasons for this discrepancy should be taken into consideration: poor quality of Google satellite photographs, difficulties in determining the body axis, selection of herds or animals within herds, lack of blinding in the evaluation, possible subconscious bias, and, most importantly, high sensitivity of the calculated main directions of the Rayleigh vectors to some kind of bias or to some overlooked or ignored confounder. This factor could easily have led to an unsubstantiated positive conclusion about the existence of magnetoreception.

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2011 Dec;197(12):1127-33; discussion 1135-6. doi: 10.1007/s00359-011-0674-1. Epub 2011 Oct 22.
Further support for the alignment of cattle along magnetic field lines: reply to Hert et al.
Begall S, Burda H, Cervený J, Gerter O, Neef-Weisse J, Němec P. 

AbstractHert et al. (J Comp Physiol A, 2011) challenged one part of the study by Begall et al. (PNAS 105:13451-13455, 2008) claiming that they could not replicate the finding of preferential magnetic alignment of cattle recorded in aerial images of Google Earth. However, Hert and co-authors used a different statistical approach and applied the statistics on a sample partly unsuitable to examine magnetic alignment. About 50% of their data represent noise (resolution of the images is too poor to enable unambiguous measurement of the direction of body axes, pastures are on slopes, near settlements or high voltage power-lines, etc.). Moreover, the authors have selected for their analysis only ~ 40% of cattle that were present on the pastures analyzed. Here, we reanalyze all usable data and show that cattle significantly align their body axes in North-South direction on pastures analyzed by Hert and co-authors. This finding thus supports our previous study. In addition, we show by using aerial Google Earth images with good resolution, that the magnetic alignment is more pronounced in resting than in standing cattle.
Comment on

No alignment of cattle along geomagnetic field lines found. [J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2011]

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2013 Aug;199(8):695-701. doi: 10.1007/s00359-013-0827-5. Epub 2013 May 23.
Cattle on pastures do align along the North-South axis, but the alignment depends on herd density.
Slaby P, Tomanova K, Vacha M. 

AbstractAlignment is a spontaneous behavioral preference of particular body orientation that may be seen in various vertebrate or invertebrate taxa. Animals often optimize their positions according to diverse directional environmental factors such as wind, stream, slope, sun radiation, etc. Magnetic alignment represents the simplest directional response to the geomagnetic field and a growing body of evidence of animals aligning their body positions according to geomagnetic lines whether at rest or during feedings is accumulating. Recently, with the aid of Google Earth application, evidence of prevailing North-South (N-S) body orientation of cattle on pastures was published (Begall et al. PNAS 105:13451-13455, 2008; Burda et al. PNAS 106:5708-5713, 2009). Nonetheless, a subsequent study from a different laboratory did not confirm this phenomenon (Hert et al. J Comp Physiol A 197:677-682, 2011). The aim of our study was to enlarge the pool of independently gained data on this remarkable animal behavior. By satellite snapshots analysis and using blinded protocol we scored positions of 2,235 individuals in 74 herds. Our results are in line with the original findings of prevailing N-S orientation of grazing cattle. In addition, we found that mutual distances between individual animals within herds (herd density) affect their N-S preference-a new phenomenon giving some insight into biological significance of alignment.

Sensing of power lines

Proc Biol Sci. 2014 Feb 19;281(1780):20132995. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2995. Print 2014 Apr 7.
The spectral transmission of ocular media suggests ultraviolet sensitivity is widespread among mammals.
Douglas RH, Jeffery G.


Although ultraviolet (UV) sensitivity is widespread among animals it is considered rare in mammals, being restricted to the few species that have a visual pigment maximally sensitive (λmax) below 400 nm. However, even animals without such a pigment will be UV-sensitive if they have ocular media that transmit these wavelengths, as all visual pigments absorb significant amounts of UV if the energy level is sufficient. Although it is known that lenses of diurnal sciurid rodents, tree shrews and primates prevent UV from reaching the retina, the degree of UV transmission by ocular media of most other mammals without a visual pigment with λmax in the UV is unknown. We examined lenses of 38 mammalian species from 25 families in nine orders and observed large diversity in the degree of short-wavelength transmission. All species whose lenses removed short wavelengths had retinae specialized for high spatial resolution and relatively high cone numbers, suggesting that UV removal is primarily linked to increased acuity. Other mammals, however, such as hedgehogs, dogs, cats, ferrets and okapis had lenses transmitting significant amounts of UVA (315-400 nm), suggesting that they will be UV-sensitive even without a specific UV visual pigment.

Conserv Biol. 2014 Jun;28(3):630-1. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12262. Epub 2014 Mar 12.
Ultraviolet vision and avoidance of power lines in birds and mammals.
Tyler N, Stokkan KA, Hogg C, Nellemann C, Vistnes AI, Jeffery G.