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Visual navigation: properties, acquisition and use of views

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Panoramic views offer information on heading direction and on location to visually navigating animals. This review covers the properties of panoramic views and the information they provide to navigating animals, irrespective of image representation. Heading direction can be retrieved by alignment matching between memorized and currently experienced views, and a gradient descent in image differences can lead back to the location at which a view was memorized (positional image matching). Central place foraging insects, such as ants, bees and wasps, conduct distinctly choreographed learning walks and learning flights upon first leaving their nest that are likely to be designed to systematically collect scene memories tagged with information provided by path integration on the direction of and the distance to the nest. Equally, traveling along routes, ants have been shown to engage in scanning movements, in particular when routes are unfamiliar, again suggesting a systematic process of acquiring and comparing views. The review discusses what we know and do not know about how view memories are represented in the brain of insects, how they are acquired and how they are subsequently used for traveling along routes and for pinpointing places.

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Modified from Zeil 2012

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Modified from Kócsi et al. 2020. b The path (top) and gaze directions (bottom) of a Myrmecia croslandi forager returning to the nest shown when she is ca 2.9 m (left) and ca 0.5 m away from the nest (right). c Time series and probability densities of gaze and body axis directions and angular velocities for the same two path segments. Ants were filmed at 25 fps with a Sony FDR-AX100E Camcorder. d During their learning flights, Cerceris wasps view the nest in the lateral visual field to the left or right while pivoting along alternating clock-wise and anti-clockwise arcs around the nest (left). Upon returning, they change flight and gaze direction to the left or to the right, when encountering nest-right or nest-left views, respectively. Modified from Stürzl et al. 2016

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I thank Tom Collett and Andy Philippides for their constructive comments on this review.

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JZ wrote and reviewed the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jochen Zeil.

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Zeil, J. Visual navigation: properties, acquisition and use of views. J Comp Physiol A 209, 499–514 (2023).

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