Home > Papers from 2013 > How do ants integrate information sources?

How do ants integrate information sources?

The problem of integrating conflicting information is at the heart of how animals deal adaptively with their environment. One accessible behaviour within which to ask questions about cue-integration is the compass system of a navigating insect. We know that multiple redundant sources of information input to the celestial compass systems of ants and bees. Here, Lebhardt and Ronacher investigate conflicts within this set of cues.

Abstract: Desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis, perform large-scale foraging trips in their featureless habitat using path integration as their main navigation tool. To determine their walking direction they use primarily celestial cues, the sky’s polarization pattern and the sun position. To examine the relative importance of these two celestial cues, we performed cue conflict experiments. We manipulated the polarization pattern experienced by the ants during their outbound foraging excursions, reducing it to a single electric field (e-)vector direction with a linear polarization filter. The simultaneous view of the sun created situations in which the directional information of the sun and the polarization compass disagreed. The heading directions of the homebound runs recorded on a test field with full view of the natural sky demonstrate that none of both compasses completely dominated over the other. Rather the ants seemed to compute an intermediate homing direction to which both compass systems contributed roughly equally. Direct sunlight and polarized light are detected in different regions of the ant’s compound eye, suggesting two separate pathways for obtaining directional information. In the experimental paradigm applied here, these two pathways seem to feed into the path integrator with similar weights.


Lebhardt, F., & Ronacher, B. (2013). Interactions of the polarization and the sun compass in path integration of desert ants. Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 1-10.

Categories: Papers from 2013
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