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Route-segment odometry and its interactions with global path-integration

Collett, Thomas S., Collett, Matthew
Journal of comparative physiology 2015 v.201 no.6 pp. 617-630
Cataglyphis, desert insects, honey bees, nests
Insects such as desert ants and honeybees use visual memories to travel along familiar routes between their nest and a food-site. We trained Cataglyphis fortis foragers along a two-segment route to investigate whether they encode the lengths of route segments over which visual cues remain approximately constant. Our results support earlier studies suggesting that such route-segment odometry exists, and allows an individual to stop using a visual route memory at an appropriate point, even in the absence of any change in the visual surroundings. But we find that the behavioural effects of route-segment odometry are often complicated by interactions with guidance from the global path-integration system. If route-segment odometry and path-integration agree, they act together to produce a precise signal for search. If the endpoint of route-segment odometry arrives first, it does not trigger search but its effect can persist and cause guidance by path-integration to end early. Conversely, if ants start with their path-integration state at zero, they follow a route memory for no more than 3 m, irrespective of the route-segment length. A possible explanation for these results is that if one guidance system is made to overshoot its endpoint, it can cause the other to be cut short.