Insights into the navigation mechanisms of the homing pigeon (Columba livia): a geo-spatial and individual-based modelling approach (#602)
Despite decades of pigeon homing research, little is known about how navigational decisions are formed explicitly. Here, we first investigate whether regional patterns of initial orientation errors (IOEs) of homing pigeons are associated with spatial variation in environmental factors. We used data obtained from two previous pigeon-orientation studies in New York State, USA (1975) and Frankfurt, Germany (1992). These data were re-analysed using modern geospatial modelling techniques. Preliminary results show IOE patterns are anisotropic and highly correlated with the spatial structure of geomagnetic field (compared to other environmental stimuli such as topography, gravity intensity, and wind patterns). This provides indirect but strong evidence that geomagnetic parameters play an important role in the pigeon’s map sense. Secondly, based on our findings, we propose a ‘virtual lab’ approach to test the following two hypothesis using individual-based simulation models (IBSMs): 1) Pigeons rely on systematically varied stimuli for navigation; 2) IOE is a result of interactions between perception of the bird and anomalies of the environmental cues. In our IBSMs, both organisms and the environments they interact with will be simulated in an artificial platform (or in silico). Each simulation will test a trait of the animal or the environment, or a combination of traits, and assess their contribution to the observed IOE pattern quantitatively. This research will provide insights into homing behaviours, which will serve as a stepping stone for understanding navigation mechanisms.