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Time- courses of memory decay in vector-based and landmark-based systems of navigation in desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis


Ziegler, P E; Wehner, R (1997). Time- courses of memory decay in vector-based and landmark-based systems of navigation in desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis. Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 181(1):13-20.

Abstract

In foraging and homing, desert ants of the genus Cataglyphis employ two different systems of navigation: a vector-based or dead-reckoning mechanism, depending on angles steered and distances travelled, and a landmark-based piloting mechanism. In these systems the ants use either celestial or terrestrial visual information, respectively. In behavioural experiments we investigated how long these types of information are preserved in the ant's memory, i.e. how long the ants are able to orient properly in either way. To answer this question, ants were tested in specific dead-reckoning and piloting situations, whereby the two vector components, direction and distance, were examined separately. The ability to follow a particular vector course vanishes rapidly. Information about a given homing direction is lost from the 6th day on (the time constant of the exponential memory decay function is τ = 4.5 days). The homing distances show a significantly higher dispersion from the 4th day on (τ = 2.5 days). Having learned a constellation of landmarks positioned at the corners of an equidistant triangle all ants were oriented properly after 10 days in captivity, and 64% of the ants exhibited extremely precise orientation performances even when tested after 20 days. Thus, the memory decay functions have about the same short time-course for information on distance and direction, i.e. information used for dead-reckoning. In contrast, landmark-based information used in pinpointing the nest entrance is stored over the entire lifetime of a Cataglyphis forager.

In foraging and homing, desert ants of the genus Cataglyphis employ two different systems of navigation: a vector-based or dead-reckoning mechanism, depending on angles steered and distances travelled, and a landmark-based piloting mechanism. In these systems the ants use either celestial or terrestrial visual information, respectively. In behavioural experiments we investigated how long these types of information are preserved in the ant's memory, i.e. how long the ants are able to orient properly in either way. To answer this question, ants were tested in specific dead-reckoning and piloting situations, whereby the two vector components, direction and distance, were examined separately. The ability to follow a particular vector course vanishes rapidly. Information about a given homing direction is lost from the 6th day on (the time constant of the exponential memory decay function is τ = 4.5 days). The homing distances show a significantly higher dispersion from the 4th day on (τ = 2.5 days). Having learned a constellation of landmarks positioned at the corners of an equidistant triangle all ants were oriented properly after 10 days in captivity, and 64% of the ants exhibited extremely precise orientation performances even when tested after 20 days. Thus, the memory decay functions have about the same short time-course for information on distance and direction, i.e. information used for dead-reckoning. In contrast, landmark-based information used in pinpointing the nest entrance is stored over the entire lifetime of a Cataglyphis forager.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Zoology (former)
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:1997
Deposited On:11 Feb 2008 12:16
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 12:15
Publisher:Springer
ISSN:0340-7594
Publisher DOI:10.1007/s003590050088
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-635

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