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Individual odor recognition in birds : An endogenous olfactory signature on petrels' feathers?

Bonadonna F., Miguel E., Grosbois V., Jouventin P., Bessière J.M.. 2007. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 33 (9) : p. 1819-1829.

DOI: 10.1007/s10886-007-9345-7

A growing body of evidence indicates that odors are used in individual, sexual, and species recognition in vertebrates, and may be reliable signals of quality and compatibility. Petrels are seabirds that exhibit an acute sense of smell. During the breeding period, many species of petrel live in dense colonies on small oceanic islands and form pairs that use individual underground burrows. Mates alternate between parental duties and foraging trips at sea. Returning from the ocean at night (to avoid bird predators), petrels must find their nest burrow. Antarctic prions, Pachyptila desolata, are thought to identify their nest by recognizing their partner's odor, suggesting the existence of an individual odor signature. We used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to analyze extracts obtained from the feathers of 13 birds. The chemical profile of a single bird was more similar to itself, from year to year, than to that of any other bird. The profile contained up to a hundred volatile lipids, but the odor signature may be based on the presence or absence of a few specific compounds. Our results show that the odor signature in Antarctic prions is probably endogenous, suggesting that in some species of petrels it may broadcast compatibility and quality of potential mates.

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