Home > Papers from 2012 > Geometry use by bumblebees? Geometry use by anything?

Geometry use by bumblebees? Geometry use by anything?

Within the field of Spatial Cognition, a significant debate exists around the use of geometrical cues by animals. Since the 1986 paper by Ken Cheng, it has been suggested that within an experimental situation (usually a simple arena) animals might be able to use geometrical properties of the space as a reference, independently of the local features within the space. For example, in a rectangular arena diagonally opposite corners might appear similar because they both hold the same relationship to the long axis of the space. This property of rectangular arenas has driven a cottage industry, as people look for geometrical errors, whereby animals confuse diagonally opposite corners, even when local features may disambiguate them. Two posited explanations are: Animals have a dedicated module for extracting the geometrical information; Animals use stored views to reorient within the space.

Within this sub-field, evidence that insects also make geometrical errors (e.g. Wystrach et al, 2009) is usually taken as support for view-matching. And in this spirit Sovrno et al show that within a rectangular arena, bumblebees will make geometrical errors even when other cues are available. This provides further (indirect) evidence that the simple matching of wide-field views is sufficient to explain animal performance in “geometry” tasks. One might therefore suggest that there is no reason for us to assume the presence of a more complex geometric module in vertebrates.

Sovrano VA, Rigosi E, Vallortigara G (2012) Spatial Reorientation by Geometry in Bumblebees. PLoS ONE 7(5): e37449. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037449

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