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Open Access: CC BY 4.0


Rössler, W.

Year: 2019


Neuroplasticity in desert ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) – importance for the ontogeny of navigation

Journal: Myrmecological News

Volume: 29

Pages: 1-20

Type of contribution: Review Article

Supplementary material: No


Ants express a remarkable behavioral plasticity ranging far beyond rigid stimulus-response relationships. This review highlights the role of adult neuronal plasticity (neuroplasticity) in ant brains related to behavioral changes at the transition from tasks inside the nest to outdoor foraging. The focus is on desert ants of the genus Cataglyphis Foerster, 1850 – a famous experimental model for the study of visually based long-distance navigation. In contrast to ant species using trail-pheromone communication or recruitment strategies to exploit profitable food sources, thermophilic Cataglyphis ants are individual scavengers searching for dispersed food items on long excursions. For directional information during foraging, the ants strongly rely on a skylight compass and visual guidance by panoramic scenes. The marked adult transition in the individual life history of the ants offers ideal experimental access to study the behavioral and neuronal plasticity underlying the ontogeny of successful navigation. For the major part of their lives, the ants perform tasks in the dark underground nest interior before switching to largely visually based navigation under bright sunlight. Recent studies demonstrate that learning walks – a stereotyped behavioral routine the ants perform prior to first foraging – represent a crucial element in the ontogeny of successful navigation. Analyses of visual neuronal pathways to the central complex and mushroom bodies – two prominent sensory integration centers in the insect brain – revealed that first light exposure and visual experience during learning walks lead to distinct structural re-organizations of synaptic circuits in both brain centers reflecting initial calibrations and memory processes in the ants’ visual compass systems.

Open access, licensed under CC BY 4.0. © 2019 The Author(s).

Key words: Review, ant brain, transition, behavioral plasticity, orientation, memory, learning walk, vision, earth’s magnetic field, central complex, mushroom body, central-place forager.

Publisher: The Austrian Society of Entomofaunistics

ISSN: 1997-3500

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