Views, landmarks, and routes: how do desert ants negotiate an obstacle course?
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- Wystrach, A., Schwarz, S., Schultheiss, P. et al. J Comp Physiol A (2011) 197: 167. doi:10.1007/s00359-010-0597-2
The Australian desert ant Melophorus bagoti often follows stereotypical routes through a cluttered landscape containing both distant panoramic views and obstacles (plants) to navigate around. We created an artificial obstacle course for the ants between a feeder and their nest. Landmarks comprised natural objects in the landscape such as logs, branches, and tussocks. Many ants travelled stereotypical routes home through the obstacle course in training, threading repeatedly the same gaps in the landmarks. Manipulations altering the relations between the landmarks and the surrounding panorama, however, affected the routes in two major ways. Both interchanging the positions of landmarks (transpositions) and displacing the entire landmark set along with the starting position of the ants (translations) (1) reduced the stereotypicality of the route, and (2) increased turns and meanders during travel. The ants might have used the entire panorama in view-based travel, or the distal panorama might prime the identification and use of landmarks en route. Despite the large data set, both options (not mutually exclusive) remain viable.