Olfactory discrimination of aliphatic 2-ketones and 1-alcohols in South African fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus)

University essay from Linköpings universitet/Institutionen för fysik, kemi och biologi


Odor discrimination ability was tested in four female South African fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) using a food-rewarded two-choice instrumental conditioning paradigm. The seals’ ability to distinguish between members of homologous series of aliphatic ketones (2-butanone to 2-heptanone) and alcohols (1-butanol to 1-heptanol) was assessed. The results showed that three out of four seals successfully discriminated between all of their stimulus combinations in both classes of odorants. One seal succeeded to reach the discrimination criterion with all 2-ketones but failed with all 1-alcohols.

No significant correlation between odor discrimination performance and structural similarity of the odorants in terms of differences in carbon chain length was found in either of the two chemical classes. Furthermore, it was found that the 2-ketones were significantly better discriminated than the 1-alcohols. The fact that both classes of odorants are known to be present in the natural environment of seals provides a possible explanation as to why most of the seals were able to successfully discriminate between them. The results of the present study support the notion that the sense of smell may play an important role in behavioral contexts such as social communication, foraging and reproductive behavior of fur seals.

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