Hänsel, Gretel and the slime mould - how an external spatial memory AIDS navigation in complex environments

Jules Smith-Ferguson, Chris R. Reid, Tanya Latty, Madeleine Beekman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    The ability to navigate through an environment is critical to most organisms' ability to survive and reproduce. The presence of a memory system greatly enhances navigational success. Therefore, natural selection is likely to drive the creation of memory systems, even in non-neuronal organisms, if having such a system is adaptive. Here we examine if the external spatial memory system present in the acellular slime mould, Physarum polycephalum, provides an adaptive advantage for resource acquisition. P. polycephalum lays tracks of extracellular slime as it moves through its environment. Previous work has shown that the presence of extracellular slime allows the organism to escape from a trap in laboratory experiments simply by avoiding areas previously explored. Here we further investigate the benefits of using extracellular slime as an external spatial memory by testing the organism's ability to navigate through environments of differing complexity with and without the ability to use its external memory. Our results suggest that the external memory has an adaptive advantage in 'open' and simple bounded environments. However, in a complex bounded environment, the extracellular slime provides no advantage, and may even negatively affect the organism's navigational abilities. Our results indicate that the exact experimental set up matters if one wants to fully understand how the presence of extracellular slime affects the slime mould's search behaviour.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number414003
    Pages (from-to)1-11
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Physics D: Applied Physics
    Issue number41
    Publication statusPublished - 21 Sept 2017


    • amoeboid organism
    • extracellular slime
    • external spatial memory
    • Physarum polycephalum
    • protist
    • navigation


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