The Role of Geomagnetic Cues in Green Turtle Open Sea Navigation,
S. Benhamou,J. Sudre,J. Bourjea,S. Ciccione,A. De Santis, and P. Luschi.
PLoS ONE 6(10): e26672. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026672
Laboratory and field experiments have provided evidence that sea turtles use geomagnetic cues to navigate in the open sea. For instance, green turtles (Chelonia mydas) displaced 100 km away from their nesting site were impaired in returning home when carrying a strong magnet glued on the head. However, the actual role of geomagnetic cues remains unclear, since magnetically treated green turtles can perform large scale (>2000 km) post-nesting migrations no differently from controls.
In the present homing experiment, 24 green turtles were displaced 200 km away from their nesting site on an oceanic island, and tracked, for the first time in this type of experiment, with Global Positioning System (GPS), which is able to provide much more frequent and accurate locations than previously used tracking methods. Eight turtles were magnetically treated for 24–48 h on the nesting beach prior to displacement, and another eight turtles had a magnet glued on the head at the release site. The last eight turtles were used as controls. Detailed analyses of water masses-related (i.e., current-corrected) homing paths showed that magnetically treated turtles were able to navigate toward their nesting site as efficiently as controls, but those carrying magnets were significantly impaired once they arrived within 50 km of home.
While green turtles do not seem to need geomagnetic cues to navigate far from the goal, these cues become necessary when turtles get closer to home. As the very last part of the homing trip (within a few kilometers of home) likely depends on non-magnetic cues, our results suggest that magnetic cues play a key role in sea turtle navigation at an intermediate scale by bridging the gap between large and small scale navigational processes, which both appear to depend on non-magnetic cues.