Ant navigation: fractional use of the home vector

Allen Cheung, Lex Hiby, Ajay Narendra*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Home is a special location for many animals, offering shelter from the elements, protection from predation, and a common place for gathering of the same species. Not surprisingly, many species have evolved efficient, robust homing strategies, which are used as part of each and every foraging journey. A basic strategy used by most animals is to take the shortest possible route home by accruing the net distances and directions travelled during foraging, a strategy well known as path integration. This strategy is part of the navigation toolbox of ants occupying different landscapes. However, when there is a visual discrepancy between test and training conditions, the distance travelled by animals relying on the path integrator varies dramatically between species: from 90% of the home vector to an absolute distance of only 50 cm. We here ask what the theoretically optimal balance between PI-driven and landmark-driven navigation should be. In combination with well-established results from optimal search theory, we show analytically that this fractional use of the home vector is an optimal homing strategy under a variety of circumstances. Assuming there is a familiar route that an ant recognizes, theoretically optimal search should always begin at some fraction of the home vector, depending on the region of familiarity. These results are shown to be largely independent of the search algorithm used. Ant species from different habitats appear to have optimized their navigation strategy based on the availability and nature of navigational information content in their environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere50451
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


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