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Nat Rev Neurosci. 2002 Jul;3(7):542-52.

Memory use in insect visual navigation.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QG, UK.


The navigational strategies that are used by foraging ants and bees to reach a goal are similar to those of birds and mammals. Species from all these groups use path integration and memories of visual landmarks to navigate through familiar terrain. Insects have far fewer neural resources than vertebrates, so data from insects might be useful in revealing the essential components of efficient navigation. Recent work on ants and bees has uncovered a major role for associative links between long-term memories. We emphasize the roles of these associations in the reliable recognition of visual landmarks and the reliable performance of learnt routes. It is unknown whether such associations also provide insects with a map-like representation of familiar terrain. We suggest, however, that landmarks act primarily as signposts that tell insects what particular action they need to perform, rather than telling them where they are.

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