Biology

Dynamic multimodal interactions in navigating wood ants: What do path details tell us about cue integration? [RESEARCH ARTICLE]




Cornelia Buehlmann, Alexia Aussel, and Paul Graham

Ants are expert navigators using multimodal information to navigate successfully. Here, we present the results of systematic studies of multimodal cue use in navigating wood ants, Formica rufa. Ants learnt to navigate to a feeder that was defined by an olfactory cue (O), visual cue (V) and airflow (A) presented together. When the feeder, olfactory cue and airflow were all placed at the centre of the visual cue (VOACentre), ants did not directly approach the learnt feeder when either the olfactory or visual cue was removed. This confirms that some form of cue binding has taken place. However, in a visually simpler task with the feeder located at the edge of the visual cue (VOAEdge), ants still approached the feeder directly when individual cue components were removed. Hence, cue binding is flexible and depends on the navigational context. In general, cues act additively in determining the ants’ paths accuracy, i.e. the use of multiple cues increased navigation performance. Moreover, across different training conditions, we saw different motor patterns in response to different sensory cues. For instance, ants had more sinuous paths with more turns when they followed an odour plume but did not have any visual cues. Having visual information together with the odour enhanced performance and therefore positively impacted on plume following. Interestingly, path characteristics of ants from the different multimodal groups (VOACentre vs. VOAEdge) were different, suggesting that the observed flexibility in cue binding may be a result of ants’ movement characteristics.

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