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The effect of spatially restricted experience on extrapolating learned views in desert ants, Melophorus bagoti


Desert ants are known for learning walks at the beginning of their foraging life, during which they learn terrestrial cues of the panorama and surrounding landmarks around their nest. Foragers retain memories of the visual cues of the nest panorama learned during the pre-foraging trials. When away from the nest, they can compare these stored views with their current vision to return to their nest. In this study we investigated whether spatially restricted foraging ants can extrapolate their memory of visual cues to unexperienced sites. We carried out two conditions to examine whether desert ants extrapolate learned views. In the first condition, naïve ants of Melophorus bagoti were restricted to a nest arena 1 m in radius with a 10 cm high wall (wall condition) for 3 days, then released at distant locations on the fourth day and focal individuals return trips were recorded. In the second condition, a 10 cm sunken metallic barrier was constructed around the nest (moat condition) and the restricted foragers that viewed the unrestricted visual panorama around the 1 m-radius nest arena were then displaced away from the nest as in the wall condition. In the wall condition, most of the ants were unable to orient in the correct heading towards the home direction. In the moat condition ants were able to correctly orient to the nest from displacement sites up to 8 m from the nest. We conclude that while travelling to unfamiliar sites, M. bagoti ants can extrapolate views learned from foraging in a restricted area when given unrestricted views.

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We thank the Centre for Appropriate Technology at Alice Springs, Australia for letting us work on their property and providing some storage space, and the CSIRO Arid Zone Research at Alice Springs for administrative support. This research was supported by a Grant from the Australian Research Council (DP 1598700) and by Macquarie University. We are also thankful to the open recruitment for international exchange program, Program to Support Young Leaders HR Development at the Institute for Global Prominent Research (IGPR), Chiba University.

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Experiments conceived and designed by SD and KC. SD and KF carried out experimentation and collected data. SD and KC drafted and revised the manuscript.

Correspondence to Sudhakar Deeti.

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The authors declare no competing or financial interests.

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Australia has no ethical regulations regarding work with insects. The study was non-invasive and no long-term aversive effects were found on the nests or on the individuals studied.

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Deeti, S., Fujii, K. & Cheng, K. The effect of spatially restricted experience on extrapolating learned views in desert ants, Melophorus bagoti. Anim Cogn (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-020-01359-2

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  • Extrapolation
  • View-based navigation
  • Learning walks
  • Desert ant
  • Panorama