Birds Can Smell

gabriellenevittFor a long time, scientists believed that birds could not smell. However, Dr. Gabrielle Nevitt conclusively proves otherwise in her research.

My specialty is olfaction – the sense of smell – and much of my research has focused on exploring how marine birds and fishes use smell in the natural environment. I have worked in areas ranging from olfactory homing in salmon, to olfactory foraging, navigation and individual recognition in birds, and in particular, petrels and albatrosses … 2016_lsh_nevittWhile most of my work has focused on the procellariiforms, I am broadly interested in the sense of smell in birds. Birds use chemical cues for a variety of behaviors, but olfaction and taste are largely ignored in behaviors from foraging to communication and sexual selection. nevittgabrielle179We were among the first groups to show odor-mediated individual recognition in birds. Long-lived Antarctic prions recognize the odor of their mates (Bonadonna and Nevitt 2004, Science) and leach’s storm-petrel chicks can recognize the individual odor signature of their nest (O’Dwyer et al. 2008). In collaboration with Henri Weimerskirch of CNRS / France, we were the first to apply high-resolution tracking to investigate the sensory basis for foraging in albatrosses. Our work shows that wandering albatross hunt by smell and can detect prey from kilometers away. (Nevitt et al. 2008, PNAS, Cover story).


BIRDS CAN SMELL
by Nancy Averett

Yet changing long-held beliefs takes time, and the scientific community is no exception. Dozens of Nevitt’s grant proposals have been rejected because of the birds-can’t-smell fallacy. A program officer once called to say her application was the worst he’d ever seen. “Your idea that birds can smell is ridiculous,”he said. “This will never be funded, so stop wasting your time.” She ignored him, and her perseverance and inventive methods have inspired others who share her fascination … Nevitt, Hagelin, and other avian olfaction trailblazers have pushed past criticism, failure, and even bodily injury in their quest to disprove one of biology’s most pervasive myths. “In science,” says Nevitt, “we rediscover the obvious sometimes.”

For more, see:

http://www.audubon.org/magazine/january-february-2014/birds-can-smell-and-one-scientist

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