SUMMARY It is often suggested that animals may link landmark memories to a global coordinate system provided by path integration, thereby obtaining a map-like representation of familiar terrain. In an attempt to discover if desert ants form such associations we have performed experiments that test whether desert ants recall a long-term memory of a global path integration vector on arriving at a familiar food site. Ants from three nests were trained along L-shaped routes to a feeder. Each route was entirely within open-topped channels that obscured all natural landmarks. Conspicuous artificial landmarks were attached to the channelling that formed the latter part of the route. The homeward vectors of ants accustomed to the route were tested with the foodward route,either as in training, or with the first leg of the L shortened or extended. These ants were taken from the feeder to a test area and released, whereupon they performed a home vector. If travelling the latter part of a familiar route and arriving at a familiar food site triggers the recall of an accustomed home vector, then the home vector should be the same under both test conditions. We find instead that the home vector tended to reflect the immediately preceding outward journey. In conjunction with earlier work, these experiments led us to conclude in the case of desert ants that landmark memories do not prime the recall of long-term global path integration memories. On the other hand, landmark memories are known to be linked to local path integration vectors that guide ants along a segment of a route. Landmarks thus seem to provide procedural information telling ants what action to perform next but not the positional information that gives an ant its location relative to its nest.
Desert ants (Cataglyphis fortis) were trained to follow a fixed route around a barrier to a feeder. Their homeward trajectories were recorded on a test field containing a similar barrier, oriented either as in training or rotated through 22 or 45. Under one set of experimental conditions, the homeward trajectories rotated with the orientation of the barrier, implying that the visual features of this extended landmark can determine the route independently of compass cues: the barrier provided a “visual scene” that controlled the trajectories of the ants. Under other conditions, the trajectories after rotation were a compromise between the habitual compass direction and the direction with respect to the rotated barrier. Trajectories were determined primarily by the visual scene when ants were allowed to return close to the nest before being caught and tested. The compromise trajectories were observed when ants were taken from the feeder. It seems that ants exhibit at least two separate learnt responses to the barrier: (i) a habitual compass direction triggered by the sight of the barrier and (ii) a visual scene direction that is compass-independent. We suggest that the weighting accorded to these different learnt responses changes with the state of the path integration system.