Mechanisms of Compass Orientation in C57BL/6 Laboratory Mice


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Virginia Tech


Compass orientation or menotaxis is defined as the ability to orient at a specific angle relative to a directional cue. Cues used for compass orientation include the sun, stars, moon, geomagnetic field and polarized light. While there is evidence in a variety of organisms for compass orientation, the ability of mammals to use cues for compass orientation has been relatively unexplored. The goal of this research was to explore whether laboratory mice could use either magnetic or auditory cues for compass orientation. The results indicate that mice are able to learn to position their nest using a magnetic compass. The development of a magnetic compass assay in laboratory mice will allow the investigation of the mechanism of magnetic compass orientation in mammals, a goal that has been unattainable to this point.In addition, this research has provided preliminary evidence that mice are able to learn to position their nests using an auditory compass. While there is evidence in several organisms for place navigation using auditory cues (i.e. the ability to locate a specific spatial position using auditory cues), this is the first evidence in any organism for an auditory compass (i.e. the ability to calculate a directional heading relative to an auditory cue).In conclusion, both experiments provide evidence for specialized compass systems in mice and suggest that further research is necessary to fully understand the role of these systems in the behavioral ecology of mice.



orientation cues, magnetic compass, auditory compass, orientation