Home > Papers from 2012 > Using radar to observe large-scale route development

Using radar to observe large-scale route development

We know a relatively large amount about the habitual routes of ants as they travel between their nest and a single stable food location. The overall picture there is of simple procedural instructions that inform the ant of the appropriate action for a given place, but do not necessitate any higher-order organisation of spatial memories (such as a cognitive map). This is not controversial, though the debate around the organisation of spatial memories in other pollinators is more lively. Flying insects that may have to visit multiple sites often show a traplining behaviour whereby they show stable efficient routes between multiple foraging locations. The mechanisms underpinning such behaviour are hard to investigate; Though in this excellent new piece of work, Lihoreau et al show how these questions may be addressed. Bumblebees are radar tracked as they learn and adapt a foraging route that takes in multiple locations. The extensive data collected with this methodology enabled the authors to make strong predictions about the type of mechanisms that would explain the bees’ performance. In the author’s own words: “Our findings suggest that complex dynamic routing problems can be solved by small-brained animals using learning heuristics, without the need for a cognitive map.”

Lihoreau, M., Raine, N. E., Reynolds, A. M., Stelzer, R. J., Lim, K. S., Smith, A. D., Osborne, J. L. & Chittka, L. 2012 Radar Tracking and Motion-Sensitive Cameras on Flowers Reveal the Development of Pollinator Multi-Destination Routes over Large Spatial Scales. PLoS Biol 10, e1001392 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001392

Categories: Papers from 2012
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