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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, NEUROSCIENCE (oxfordre.com/neuroscience). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 13 August 2020

Summary and Keywords

Asymmetry of bilateral visual and auditory sensors has functional advantages for depth visual perception and localization of auditory signals, respectively. In order to detect the spatial distribution of an odor, bilateral olfactory organs may compare side differences of odor intensity and timing by using a simultaneous sampling mechanism; alternatively, they may use a sequential sampling mechanism to compare spatial and temporal input detected by one or several chemosensors. Extensive research on strategies and mechanisms necessary for odor source localization has been focused mainly on invertebrates. Several recent studies in mammals such as moles, rodents, and humans suggest that there is an evolutionary advantage in using stereo olfaction for successful navigation towards an odor source. Smelling in stereo or a three-dimensional olfactory space may significantly reduce the time to locate an odor source; this quality provides instantaneous information for both foraging and predator avoidance. However, since mammals are capable of finding odor sources and tracking odor trails with one sensor side blocked, they may use an intriguing temporal mechanism to compare odor concentration from sniff to sniff. A particular focus of this article is attributed to differences between insects and mammals regarding the use of unilateral versus bilateral chemosensors for odor source localization.

Keywords: odor navigation, sequential sampling, simultaneous sampling, vertebrates, invertebrates, odor plumes, stereo olfaction, sensors, rodents, bilateral asymmetry

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