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Homing and nest recognition in nocturnal blue petrels: What scent may attract birds to their burrows?

Zidat, Timothée, Gabirot, Marianne, Bonadonna, Francesco and Muller, Carsten ORCID: 2023. Homing and nest recognition in nocturnal blue petrels: What scent may attract birds to their burrows? Journal of Chemical Ecology 49 , pp. 384-396. 10.1007/s10886-023-01424-3

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Hypogean petrels return to the same nest burrow to breed on remote islands during the summer months. Their nocturnal behavior at the colony, strong musky odor and olfactory anatomy suggest an important role of olfaction in homing behavior and nest recognition. Behavioral experiments showed that olfactory cues are sufficient to allow nest identification, suggesting a stabile chemical signature emanating from burrows and facilitating nest recognition. However, the chemical nature and sources of this odor remain unknown. To better understand the nest odor composition, we analyzed volatile organic compounds (VOCs) of nests of blue petrels (Halobaena caerulea) derived from three different odor sources: nest air, nest material and feather samples. We also compared, during two successive years, VOCs from burrows with an incubating breeder on the nest, and burrows used during the breeding season by blue petrels but shortly temporally unoccupied by breeders. We found that the nest air odor was mainly formed by the owners’ odor, which provided an individual chemical label for nests that appeared stabile over the breeding season. These findings, together with the previous homing behavioral studies showing an essential role of the sense of smell in blue petrels, strongly suggest that the scent emanating from burrows of blue petrels provides the information that facilitates nest recognition and homing.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Publisher: Springer
ISSN: 0098-0331
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 8 August 2023
Date of Acceptance: 5 April 2023
Last Modified: 22 Nov 2023 14:57

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