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Magnetic orientation of the Common Toad: establishing an arena approach for adult anurans

Lukas Landler and Günter Gollmann*

Author Affiliations

University of Vienna, Department of Evolutionary Biology, 1090 Vienna, Althanstraße 14 (UZA I), Austria

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Frontiers in Zoology 2011, 8:6  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-8-6

Published: 21 March 2011

Abstract

Background

Magnetic orientation is a taxonomically widespread phenomenon in the animal kingdom, but has been little studied in anuran amphibians. We collected Common Toads (Bufo bufo) during their migration towards their spawning pond and tested them shortly after displacement for possible magnetic orientation in arena experiments. Animals were tested in two different set-ups, in the geomagnetic field and in a reversed magnetic field. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study testing orientation of adult anurans with a controlled magnetic field of a known strength and alignment.

Results

After displacement, toads oriented themselves unimodally under the geomagnetic field, following their former migration direction (d-axis). When the magnetic field was reversed, the distribution of bearings changed from a unimodal to a bimodal pattern, but still along the d-axis. The clustering of bearings was only significant after the toads reached the outer circle, 60.5 cm from their starting point. At a virtual inner circle (diameter 39 cm) and at the start of the experiment, orientation of toads did not show any significant pattern.

Conclusions

The experimental set-up used in our study is suitable to test orientation behaviour of the Common Toad. We speculate that toads had not enough time to relocate their position on an internal map. Hence, they followed their former migration direction. Bimodality in orientation when exposed to the reversed magnetic field could be the result of a cue conflict, between magnetic and possibly celestial cues. For maintaining their migration direction toads use, at least partly, the geomagnetic field as a reference system.