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Foraging by Seabirds on an Olfactory Landscape

The seemingly featureless ocean surface may present olfactory cues that help the wide-ranging petrels and albatrosses pinpoint food sources

Gabrielle Nevitt

Figure 2. Anatomical features of procellariiformsClick to Enlarge Image

Procellariiform seabirds—petrels, albatrosses and shearwaters—seem to find food easily in the open ocean. Although no one knows all the cues that "tubenose" seabirds, which have enhanced olfactory abilities, use to tell them that they have arrived at a valuable foraging site, Nevitt shows that some of them surely use smell. Experiments indicate that a seabird traversing the seemingly featureless ocean may be able to detect the peaks and valleys of an olfactory landscape marked by aromatic compounds such as dimethyl sulfide, produced when zooplankton eat phytoplankton and thus an indicator of a rich food patch on the ocean surface.


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