Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 202, Issue 7, pp 459–472 | Cite as

Steering intermediate courses: desert ants combine information from various navigational routines

  • Rüdiger Wehner
  • Thierry Hoinville
  • Holk Cruse
  • Ken Cheng


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.


Desert ant navigation Navinet model Path integration Sky compass Terrestrial panorama 



Funding for RW to visit Macquarie University to draft this manuscript with KC was provided by the Australian Research Council (DP110100608 to KC and RW) and by Macquarie University. The research reviewed here complies with the ethical standards of each of the countries in which it was performed. The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rüdiger Wehner
    • 1
  • Thierry Hoinville
    • 2
  • Holk Cruse
    • 2
  • Ken Cheng
    • 3
  1. 1.Brain Research InstituteUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Biological CyberneticsBielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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