Sequential learning of relative size by the Neotropical ant Gigantiops destructor

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The question of whether insects can perform concept learning or can use the geometry of space as in mammals has been recently addressed in Hymenoptera in an extensive way. We investigate here the ability of the tropical ant Gigantiops destructor to perform sequential learning and to use size relationships during navigation. Ants were trained to solve a dichotomic six-stage linear maze relying on the apparent width of two vertical landmarks. Each individual ant first learnt to associate a given landmark width to the motor decision of turning right or left to avoid dead-ends independently of a motor routine. When confronted for the first time with a new intermediate-sized pattern, for which no supposed snapshot could have been stored, ants made directional choices indicating that bar width judgments were not absolute but rather relative to the familiar visual patterns seen in the previous chambers. This result demonstrates that ants can generalize relationship rules by interpolating the relative width of a novel stimulus according to visual information kept in spatial working memory. In conclusion, ants can perform conditional discriminations reliably not only when stimuli are simultaneous but also when they are sequential.

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Thanks are due to Jean-Paul Lachaud for helping collecting ants in the Amazonian rainforest in French Guiana. Thanks are also due to Eric Le Bourg and Vincent Fourcassié for helping with the statistical analysis. We are grateful to Adrian Dyer, Martin Giurfa and two anonymous referees for their very constructive comments on the manuscript. This work is dedicated to the memories of my brother Jean-Claude Beugnon and to Raymond Campan.

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Correspondence to Guy Beugnon.

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All experiments comply with the current laws and regulations of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, of the University of Toulouse and of the country (France) where they have been performed.

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Video file. Experienced Gigantiops ant homing in a six-stage maze labelled by black vertical landmarks. After completion of the training phase (left turns associated to wide vertical bars ‘W’, and right turns to narrow ones ‘N’, correct exits open, wrong exits close), this control test is realized with all exits open. The ant carries its prey (i.e. a fruit fly) back to the nest relying on a pseudorandom sequence of visual cues (e.g. W-N-N-W-N-W). (MP4 9317 kb)

Video file. Experienced Gigantiops ant homing in a six-stage maze labelled by black vertical landmarks. After completion of the training phase (left turns associated to wide vertical bars ‘W’, and right turns to narrow ones ‘N’, correct exits open, wrong exits close), this control test is realized with all exits open. The ant carries its prey (i.e. a fruit fly) back to the nest relying on a pseudorandom sequence of visual cues (e.g. W-N-N-W-N-W). (MP4 9317 kb)

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Beugnon, G., Macquart, D. Sequential learning of relative size by the Neotropical ant Gigantiops destructor . J Comp Physiol A 202, 287–296 (2016) doi:10.1007/s00359-016-1075-2

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  • Gigantiops
  • Working memory
  • Maze
  • Size relationships rules
  • Sequential learning