Examining sensory modes of procellariiform seabirds: a comparison of chemical signatures across species (#196)
Species active in extreme environments often exhibit specialized sensory adaptations to communicate, navigate, and forage. Procellariiform seabirds (including petrels and albatrosses) live entirely on pelagic oceans, are highly philopatric, and many return to dense breeding colonies at night where they often nest in underground burrows. These behaviours likely indicate a multi-modal use of specialized senses. For example, nocturnal breeding behaviour has emphasized the importance of auditory cues in many petrel species. Additionally, Procellariiformes (tube-nosed seabirds) are noted as having one of the largest avian olfactory bulb to brain size ratios, and are thought to use chemical cues for foraging, and burrow and mate location. The use of odour for communication and recognition indicates distinct chemical profiles. We hypothesized that within the order of tube-nosed seabirds, species-specific chemical profiles would be evident and likely used as inter-specific distinguishable traits. We used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (gc-ms), headspace analysis of feathers from five species of procellariiform seabirds (spanning three families and four genera), and one species from the closely related order Sphenisciformes (penguins) to create species-specific odour profiles and compare the chemical make-up within these groups. Results from this study indicate that some species may be more chemically distinct than others, signifying a greater reliance on olfactory sensing for various life histories traits. As Procellariiformes are one of the most endangered orders of birds in the world, understanding the sensory adaptations of this group will provide valuable information for sensory-based conservation techniques, and previously unknown behavioural signalling methods.