Steering intermediate courses

desert ants combine information from various navigational routines

Rüdiger Wehner, Thierry Hoinville, Holk Cruse, Ken Cheng*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

39 Citations (Scopus)


A number of systems of navigation have been studied in some detail in insects. These include path integration, a system that keeps track of the straight-line distance and direction travelled on the current trip, the use of panoramic landmarks and scenery for orientation, and systematic searching. A traditional view is that only one navigational system is in operation at any one time, with different systems running in sequence depending on the context and conditions. We review selected data suggesting that often, different navigational cues (e.g., compass cues) and different systems of navigation are in operation simultaneously in desert ant navigation. The evidence suggests that all systems operate in parallel forming a heterarchical network. External and internal conditions determine the weights to be accorded to each cue and system. We also show that a model of independent modules feeding into a central summating device, the Navinet model, can in principle account for such data. No central executive processor is necessary aside from a weighted summation of the different cues and systems. Such a heterarchy of parallel systems all in operation represents a new view of insect navigation that has already been expressed informally by some authors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)459-472
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016

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