How navigational guidance systems are combined in a desert ant

Curr Biol. 2012 May 22;22(10):927-32. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.03.049. Epub 2012 Apr 19.


Animals use information from multiple sources in order to navigate between goals. Ants such as Cataglyphis fortis use an odometer and a sun-based compass to provide input for path integration (PI). They also use configurations of visual features to learn both goal locations and habitual routes to the goals. Information is not combined into a unified representation but appears to be exploited by separate expert guidance systems. Visual and PI goal memories are acquired rapidly and provide the consistency for route memories to be formed. Do established route memories then suppress the guidance from PI? A series of manipulations putting PI and route memories into varying levels of conflict found that ants follow compromise trajectories. The guidance systems are therefore active together and share the control of behavior. Route memories do not suppress the other guidance systems. A simple model shows that observed patterns of control could arise from a superposition of the output commands from the guidance systems, potentially approximating Bayesian inference. These results help show how an insect's relatively simple decision-making can produce navigation that is reliable and efficient and that also adapts to changing demands.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Homing Behavior / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Models, Biological