Whether European eel leptocephali use the Earth’s magnetic field guide their migration remains an open question
Authors: Caroline M.F. Durif, Sylvain Bonhommeau, Cédric Briand, Howard I. Browman, Martin Castonguay, Francoise Daverat, Willem Dekker, Estibaliz Diaz, Reinhold Hanel, Michael J. Miller, Andy Moore, Claire B. Paris, Anne Berit Skiftesvik, Håkan Westerberg, Håkan Wickström
Source: Current Biology Volume 27, Issue 18, pR998–R1000, 25 September 2017
Summary. European eels (Anguilla anguilla) migrate between the southwestern Sargasso Sea and the European and Mediterranean coasts. In a recent paper in Current Biology, Naisbett-Jones et al.  claim to “provide the first evidence that they [eels] derive positional information from the Earth’s magnetic field” and that this information guides their migration. The evidence reported by Naisbett-Jones et al.  in support of this conclusion was derived from eels collected in the Severn River (UK), approximately 50 km upstream of the estuary (i.e. not “in the Severn Estuary” as stated by the authors). Eels collected this far into rivers are benthic and fully adapted to freshwater; that is, they are late-stage glass eels (∼ 2 years old), not the pelagic leptocephalus (larval) life stage that actually undertakes the trans-Atlantic migration. The entire interpretive framework for the Naisbett-Jones et al.  study rests on the assumption that the behaviour of these late-stage freshwater glass eels, and their responses to magnetic fields, can be used as a proxy for the responses of eel leptocephali. The authors present no evidence in support of this key assumption.