Vector-based and landmark-guided navigation in desert ants inhabiting landmark-free and landmark-rich environments

Cornelia Bühlmann, Ken Cheng, Rüdigger Wehner*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    65 Citations (Scopus)


    Two species of desert ants - the North African Cataglyphis fortis and the central Australian Melophorus bagoti - differ markedly in the visual complexity of their natural habitats: featureless salt pans and cluttered, steppe-like terrain, respectively. Here we ask whether the two species differ in their navigational repertoires, in particular, whether in homing they place different emphasis on their vector-based and landmark-based routines. In trying to answer this question, we applied the same experimental paradigms to individual foragers of either species on either continent: training and/or testing with and/or without artificial landmark arrays. We found that the open-terrain species C. fortis runs off its (path integration) home vector much more readily even in unfamiliar landmark settings than the cluttered-terrain species M. bagoti. These data support the hypothesis that C. fortis has a higher propensity to rely on vector-mediated navigation, whereas in the same experimental situations M. bagoti more easily switches to landmark-guided behaviour. In the actual navigational performances, such species-specific propensities are most likely shaped by environment-dependent individual experiences.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2845-2853
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
    Issue number17
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2011


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