Animal Cognition

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 613–619 | Cite as

Three-dimensional spatial cognition: information in the vertical dimension overrides information from the horizontal

Short Communication


Fish live in three-dimensional environments, through which they swim with three translational and three rotational degrees of freedom. Navigating through such environments is recognised as a difficult problem, yet fish, and other animals that swim and fly, achieve this regularly. Despite this, the vast majority of research has considered how animals navigate horizontally from place to place and has ignored the vertical component. Here, we test the importance of the vertical axis of space for fish solving a three-dimensional spatial cognition task. We trained banded tetras (Astyanax fasciatus) to learn the route towards a goal in a rotating Y-maze in which the arms led either up and left or down and right in an environment that allowed access to visual landmarks providing horizontal and vertical information. Our results revealed that the landmarks increased navigational efficiency during training. However, these landmarks were ignored when the horizontal and vertical components were placed in conflict with each other by rotating the maze 90° during testing. From this surprising result, we conclude that the cues that are present in the vertical axis (presumably hydrostatic pressure) override landmark cues that have been shown to be salient in experiments that only consider the horizontal component of space.


Spatial cognition Navigation Three dimensions Fish Orientation Volumes 



We thank Tony Price and John Hogg for constructing the Y-maze and Julian Howe and the biomedical sciences technicians for technical help. We are also grateful to Adrian Thomas and Dora Biro for helpful discussions and comments on the manuscript. This research was funded by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council doctoral training grant awarded to R.I.H., a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship and L’Oreal UK Women in Science Fellowship to T.B.d.P, and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/H01103X/1).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Animal Behaviour Research Group, Department of ZoologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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