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Using T- and Y-mazes in myrmecology and elsewhere: a practical guide

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Abstract

T- and Y-mazes are powerful tools for studying the behavioural ecology and cognition of animals, especially ants. Such mazes are cheap, easy to deploy, and very flexible, allowing diverse subjects to be studied. These include cue and route learning, pheromone following, and testing for cognitive abilities such as associative and concept learning. However, while simple, the use of bifurcation mazes has many pitfalls, especially for ants which deposit pheromone trails. In this methods primer, I discuss the strengths and limitations of using bifurcation mazes to study ant behaviour, and outline some of the pitfalls to be avoided. I also provide a description of a suggested Y-maze design, and methodological details about using Y-mazes to study associative learning, route learning, and trail pheromone following. Although the description of the uses of bifurcation mazes, and their pitfalls, is not exhaustive, this methods primer hopes to be of use to both beginners and more experienced researchers in designing and deploying bifurcation mazes in their research. While primarily aimed at myrmecologists, much of the content of this methods primer will be broadly applicable to animal behavioural research.

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Adapted with permission from Popp et al. (2017). (Colour figure online)

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Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Abel Bernadou, Florian Menzel, Roxanna Josens, Flavio Roces, and two anonymous referees for comments on previous versions of this manuscript, and to Joachim Ruther for discussing the appropriate methods for testing putative trail pheromones. TJC was supported by an Emmy Noether group leader Grant from the Feutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Grant number CZ 237/1-1.

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Correspondence to T. J. Czaczkes.

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Czaczkes, T.J. Using T- and Y-mazes in myrmecology and elsewhere: a practical guide. Insect. Soc. 65, 213–224 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-018-0621-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-018-0621-z

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