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Search strategies of ants in landmark-rich habitats

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Abstract

Search is an important tool in an ant’s navigational toolbox to relocate food sources and find the inconspicuous nest entrance. In habitats where landmark information is sparse, homing ants travel their entire home vector before searching systematically with ever increasing loops. Search strategies have not been previously investigated in ants that inhabit landmark-rich habitats where they typically establish stereotypical routes. Here we examine the search strategy in one such ant, Melophorus bagoti, by confining their foraging in one-dimensional channels to determine if their search pattern changes with experience, location of distant cues and altered distance on the homebound journey. Irrespective of conditions, we found ants exhibit a progressive search that drifted towards the fictive nest and beyond. Segments moving away from the start of the homeward journey were longer than segments heading back towards the start. The right tail distribution of segment lengths was well fitted by a power function, but slopes less than −3 on a log-log plot indicate that the process cannot be characterized as Lévy searches that have optimal slopes near –2. A double exponential function fits the distribution of segment lengths better, supporting another theoretically optimal search pattern, the composite Brownian walk.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful for the field assistance provided by Eliza Middleton, Veronica Peralta, Kathryn Newton, Moya Tomlinson, Deepa Bapat, Michaela Blyton, Paul Cannings, and Andros Hoan, and for statistical help provided by Alan Taylor. The manuscript has greatly benefited from comments and suggestions by Jochen Zeil and two referees. Financial support from the Australian Research Council (#DP0451173) and Macquarie University is acknowledged. AN was supported by a graduate scholarship from Macquarie University. We acknowledge facilities provided by CSIRO Arid Zone Research Institute at Alice Springs, during fieldwork.

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Correspondence to Ajay Narendra.

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Narendra, A., Cheng, K., Sulikowski, D. et al. Search strategies of ants in landmark-rich habitats. J Comp Physiol A 194, 929–938 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-008-0365-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-008-0365-8

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