Rapid aversive and memory trace learning during route navigation in desert ants

Wystrach, Antoine, Buehlmann, Cornelia, Schwarz, Sebastian, Cheng, Ken and Graham, Paul (2020) Rapid aversive and memory trace learning during route navigation in desert ants. Current Biology, 30. pp. 1-7. ISSN 0960-9822

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The ability of bees and ants to learn long visually guided routes in complex environments is perhaps one of the most spectacular pieces of evidence for the impressive power of their small brains. While flying bees can visit flowers in an optimised sequence over kilometres, walking solitary foraging ants can precisely recapitulate routes of up to a hundred metres in complex environments [1]. It is clear that route following depends largely on learnt visual information and we have a good idea how visual memories can guide individuals along them [2–6], as well as how this is implemented in the insect brain [7,8]. However, little is known about the mechanisms that control route learning and development. Here we show that ants (Melophorus bagoti and Cataglyphis fortis) navigating in their natural environments can actively learn a route detour to avoid a pit-trap. This adaptive flexibility depends on a mechanism of aversive learning based on memory traces of recently encountered stimuli, reflecting the laboratory paradigm of trace conditioning. The views experienced before falling into the trap become associated with the ensuing negative outcome and thus trigger salutary turns on the subsequent trip. This drives the ants to orient away from the goal direction and avoid the trap. If the pit-trap is avoided, the novel views experienced during the detour become positively reinforced and the new route crystallises. We discuss how such an interplay between appetitive and aversive memories might be implemented in insect neural circuitry.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Evolution, Behaviour and Environment
SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 03 Apr 2020 07:41
Last Modified: 10 Apr 2021 01:00
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/90688

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