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Electromagnetic noise leaves birds lost in migration, study reports

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Posted May 12, 2014
Radio waves affect migrating birds, study reports
European Robins, like the one in this photo, cannot use its magnetic compass when it is exposed to urban anthropogenic electromagnetic noise in the AM radiofrequency range. Credit: Henrik Mouritsen

Radio waves disrupt the magnetic “compass” in robins, according to a study published on Wednesday that is likely to fuel debate about the safety of electronic devices.

In a long and careful experiment, German scientists found that migrating robins became disorientated when exposed to  at levels far lower than the safety threshold for humans.

The frequencies were in the medium-wave band used by AM radio—not the bands used by mobile phones, whose safety has been contested by some campaigners.

“For decades, it has been hotly debated whether man-made electric and magnetic fields affected biological processes, including human health,” the authors, from Oldenburg University, wrote in Nature.

The tests show “a reproducible effect of anthropogenic [man-made] electromagnetic noise on the behaviour of an intact vertebrate.”

Birds have long been thought to navigate using light and Earth’s .

Where their magnetic “compass” is and how it works remain unclear—research in homing pigeons suggests it may derive from an iron-rich crystal in their beaks called magnetite.

Read more at: Phys.org

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