Animals rely on Earth's magnetic field for a lot of things -- like knowing which direction to defecate -- but for many migratory species, magnetism is key to their survival. Scientists have already discovered that a number of animals internalize their migration routes by learning from more experienced individuals, but a recent study in the journal Current Biology shows that some species are born knowing which way to go.
A group of researchers at Oregon State University has discovered that one species of salmon can find the way to their ancestral feeding grounds without any prior migration experience. According to their findings, the salmon inherit a sense of direction toward the ocean, where they feed after hatching in freshwater, and are able to travel the appropriate route using an inborn understanding of Earth's magnetic field.
Previously, loggerhead turtles were the only animals confirmed to know their migration routes from birth. According to LiveScience, evidence that salmon share the same ability could have far-reaching implications about the abilities of other migratory species:
Since salmon and sea turtles are so far apart on the evolutionary tree, the new findings suggest that other migratory marine animals likely have this ability as well. Two distantly related species rarely share evolutionary traits that other closer relatives don't share as well.
The researchers are now working to determine how accurate the salmons' sense of direction is, by measuring how close they come to their migratory destinations.