Ground-nesting insects could use visual tracking for monitoring nest position during learning flights

Date
2014-07
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Source Title
International Conference on Simulation of Adaptive Behavior. SAB 2014: From Animals to Animats
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Springer Verlag
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Pages
108 - 120
Language
English
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Abstract

Ants, bees and wasps are central place foragers. They leave their nests to forage and routinely return to their home-base. Most are guided by memories of the visual panorama and the visual appearance of the local nest environment when pinpointing their nest. These memories are acquired during highly structured learning walks or flights that are performed when leaving the nest for the first time or whenever the insects had difficulties finding the nest during their previous return. Ground-nesting bees and wasps perform such learning flights daily when they depart for the first time. During these flights, the insects turn back to face the nest entrance and subsequently back away from the nest while flying along ever increasing arcs that are centred on the nest. Flying along these arcs, the insects counter-turn in such a way that the nest entrance is always seen in the frontal visual field at slightly lateral positions. Here we asked how the insects may achieve keeping track of the nest entrance location given that it is a small, inconspicuous hole in the ground, surrounded by complex natural structures that undergo unpredictable perspective transformations as the insect pivots around the area and gains distance from it. We reconstructed the natural visual scene experienced by wasps and bees during their learning flights and applied a number of template-based tracking methods to these image sequences. We find that tracking with a fixed template fails very quickly in the course of a learning flight, but that continuously updating the template allowed us to reliably estimate nest direction in reconstructed image sequences. This is true even for later sections of learning flights when the insects are so far away from the nest that they cannot resolve the nest entrance as a visual feature. We discuss why visual goal-anchoring is likely to be important during the acquisition of visual-spatial memories and describe experiments to test whether insects indeed update nest-related templates during their learning flights. © 2014 Springer International Publishing Switzerland.

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