Olfactory Sensing and Navigation in Turbulent Environments

Gautam Reddy, Venkatesh N. Murthy, Massimo Vergassola

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Fluid turbulence is a double-edged sword for the navigation of macroscopic animals, such as birds, insects, and rodents. On the one hand, turbulence enables pheromone communication among mates and the possibility of locating food by their odors from long distances. Molecular diffusion would indeed be unable to spread odors over relevant distances in natural conditions. On the other hand, turbulent flows are hard to predict, and learning effective maneuvers to navigate them is challenging, as we discuss in this review. We first provide a summary of the olfactory organs that sense airborne or surface-bound odors, as well as the computational tasks that animals face when extracting information useful for navigation from an olfactory signal. A compendium of the dynamics of turbulent transport emphasizes those aspects that directly impact animals rsquo behavior. The state of the art on navigational strategies is discussed, followed by a concluding section dedicated to future challenges in the field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-213
Number of pages23
JournalAnnual Review of Condensed Matter Physics
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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