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Skyline retention and retroactive interference in the navigating Australian desert ant, Melophorus bagoti A Neuroethology, sensory, neural, and behavioral physiology

Freas, Cody A., Whyte, Christopher, Cheng, Ken
Journal of comparative physiology 2017 v.203 no.5 pp. 353-367
Melophorus bagoti, ant nests, foraging, longevity, memory, nesting sites
Visual cues commonly aid solitary foraging ants. Specifically, foragers can use the skyline where terrestrial landmarks meet the sky. Foraging ants show a remarkable affinity to retain these terrestrial cues, developing lifelong memories of the nest site panorama. Here we explore foragers’ ability to retain skyline cues of resource locations at some distance from the nest through experiments with artificial skylines erected around a resource location. We also tested the foragers’ memories of one skyline at several time points after the skyline was replaced by a different one. During retention testing, foragers appear able to retain robust memories of these skylines over periods (5 days) that surpass their average life span. Exposure to the nest panorama during these periods did not interfere with navigational performance at the distant skyline. Foragers in the replacement experiment initially oriented correctly to both skylines. Thereafter, the foragers’ headings in tests with the first skyline gradually shifted away from the correct homeward direction. We argue that new skyline memories cause retroactive interference in the retention of previously learned skylines. Skyline memories may compete during memory retrieval, or may be retrieved in association with context cues present in the current testing paradigm such as vector length.