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Do familiar landmarks reset the global path integration system of desert ants?


Collett, M; Collett, T S; Chameron, S; Wehner, R (2003). Do familiar landmarks reset the global path integration system of desert ants? Journal of Experimental Biology, 206(5):877-882.

Abstract

It is often suggested that animals may link landmark memories to a global coordinate system provided by path integration, thereby obtaining a map-like representation of familiar terrain. In an attempt to discover if desert ants form such associations we have performed experiments that test whether desert ants recall a long-term memory of a global path integration vector on arriving at a familiar food site. Ants from three nests were trained along L-shaped routes to a feeder. Each route was entirely within open-topped channels that obscured all natural landmarks. Conspicuous artificial landmarks were attached to the channelling that formed the latter part of the route. The homeward vectors of ants accustomed to the route were tested with the foodward route, either as in training, or with the first leg of the L shortened or extended. These ants were taken from the feeder to a test area and released, whereupon they performed a home vector. If travelling the latter part of a familiar route and arriving at a familiar food site triggers the recall of an accustomed home vector, then the home vector should be the same under both test conditions. We find instead that the home vector tended to reflect the immediately preceding outward journey. In conjunction with earlier work, these experiments led us to conclude in the case of desert ants that landmark memories do not prime the recall of long-term global path integration memories. On the other hand, landmark memories are known to be linked to local path integration vectors that guide ants along a segment of a route. Landmarks thus seem to provide procedural information telling ants what action to perform next but not the positional information that gives an ant its location relative to its nest.

It is often suggested that animals may link landmark memories to a global coordinate system provided by path integration, thereby obtaining a map-like representation of familiar terrain. In an attempt to discover if desert ants form such associations we have performed experiments that test whether desert ants recall a long-term memory of a global path integration vector on arriving at a familiar food site. Ants from three nests were trained along L-shaped routes to a feeder. Each route was entirely within open-topped channels that obscured all natural landmarks. Conspicuous artificial landmarks were attached to the channelling that formed the latter part of the route. The homeward vectors of ants accustomed to the route were tested with the foodward route, either as in training, or with the first leg of the L shortened or extended. These ants were taken from the feeder to a test area and released, whereupon they performed a home vector. If travelling the latter part of a familiar route and arriving at a familiar food site triggers the recall of an accustomed home vector, then the home vector should be the same under both test conditions. We find instead that the home vector tended to reflect the immediately preceding outward journey. In conjunction with earlier work, these experiments led us to conclude in the case of desert ants that landmark memories do not prime the recall of long-term global path integration memories. On the other hand, landmark memories are known to be linked to local path integration vectors that guide ants along a segment of a route. Landmarks thus seem to provide procedural information telling ants what action to perform next but not the positional information that gives an ant its location relative to its nest.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Zoology (former)
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:1 March 2003
Deposited On:11 Feb 2008 12:17
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 12:15
Publisher:Company of Biologists
ISSN:0022-0949
Publisher DOI:10.1242/jeb.00176
PubMed ID:12547942
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-662

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