Two distance memories in desert ants - modes of interaction

Wolf, Harald ; Wittlinger, Matthias ; Pfeffer, Sarah E. (2018-10-10)

CITATION: Wolf, H., Wittlinger, M. & Pfeffer, S. H. 2018. Two distance memories in desert ants - modes of interaction. PLoS ONE, 13(10):e0204664, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0204664.

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Navigation plays an essential role for many animals leading a mobile mode of life, and for central place foragers in particular. One important prerequisite for navigation is the ability to estimate distances covered during locomotion. It has been shown that Cataglyphis desert ants, well-established model organisms in insect navigation, use two odometer mechanisms, namely, stride and optic flow integration. Although both mechanisms are well established, their mode of interaction to build one odometer output remains enigmatic. We tackle this problem by selectively covering the ventral eye parts in Cataglyphis fortis foragers, the eye regions responsible for optic flow input in odometry. Exclusion of optic flow cues was implemented during different sections of outbound and inbound travel. This demonstrated that the two odometers have separate distance memories that interact in determining homing distance. Possible interpretations posit that the two odometer memories (i) take on different relative weights according to context or (ii) compete in a winner-take-all mode. Explanatory values and implications of such interpretations are discussed. We are able to provide a rough quantitative assessment of odometer cue interaction. An understanding of the interaction of different odometer mechanisms appears valuable not only for animal navigation research but may inform discussions on sensor fusion in both behavioural contexts and potential technical applications.

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