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, 20 (13), 1187-91

The Function of Bilateral Odor Arrival Time Differences in Olfactory Orientation of Sharks

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The Function of Bilateral Odor Arrival Time Differences in Olfactory Orientation of Sharks

Jayne M Gardiner et al. Curr Biol.

Abstract

The direction of an odor signal source can be estimated from bilateral differences in signal intensity and/or arrival time. The best-known examples of the use of arrival time differences are in acoustic orientation. For chemoreception, animals are believed to orient by comparing bilateral odor concentration differences, turning toward higher concentrations. However, time differences should not be ignored, because odor plumes show chaotic intermittency, with the concentration variance several orders of magnitude greater than the concentration mean. We presented a small shark species, Mustelus canis, with carefully timed and measured odor pulses directly into their nares. They turned toward the side stimulated first, even with delayed pulses of higher concentration. This is the first conclusive evidence that under seminatural conditions and without training, bilateral time differences trump odor concentration differences. This response would steer the shark into an odor patch each time and thereby enhance its contact with the plume, i.e., a stream of patches. Animals with more widely spaced nares would be able to resolve smaller angles of attack at higher swimming speeds, a feature that may have contributed to the evolution of hammerhead sharks. This constitutes a novel steering algorithm for tracking odor plumes.

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