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Spatial cognition in the context of foraging styles and information transfer in ants


Ants are central-place foragers: they always return to the nest, and this requires the ability to remember relationships between features of the environment, or an individual’s path through the landscape. The distribution of these cognitive responsibilities within a colony depends on a species’ foraging style. Solitary foraging as well as leader-scouting, which is based on information transmission about a distant targets from scouts to foragers, can be considered the most challenging tasks in the context of ants’ spatial cognition. Solitary foraging is found in species of almost all subfamilies of ants, whereas leader-scouting has been discovered as yet only in the Formica rufa group of species (red wood ants). Solitary foraging and leader-scouting ant species, although enormously different in their levels of sociality and ecological specificities, have many common traits of individual cognitive navigation, such as the primary use of visual navigation, excellent visual landmark memories, and the subordinate role of odour orientation. In leader-scouting species, spatial cognition and the ability to transfer information about a distant target dramatically differ among scouts and foragers, suggesting individual cognitive specialization. I suggest that the leader-scouting style of recruitment is closely connected with the ecological niche of a defined group of species, in particular, their searching patterns within the tree crown. There is much work to be done to understand what cognitive mechanisms underpin route planning and communication about locations in ants.

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I am grateful to Daniil Ryabko for the helpful discussion and useful comments. I appreciate the efforts and valuable comments of the editors and two anonymous reviewers that helped me to improve the manuscript.


This work was funded by Russian Fund for Basic Research (No. 20-04-00072) and by The Federal Fundamental Scientific Research Program for 2013–2021 No. VI.51.1.10. (AAAA-A16-116121410120-0) (Grant No. 0-109-2018-0074).

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Correspondence to Zhanna Reznikova.

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Reznikova, Z. Spatial cognition in the context of foraging styles and information transfer in ants. Anim Cogn 23, 1143–1159 (2020).

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  • Spatial cognition
  • Ants
  • Communication
  • Navigation
  • Memory
  • Solitary foraging
  • Leader-scouting