Neural correlates of diverse navigational strategies

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)

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Insects have evolved diverse and remarkable strategies for navigating in various ecologies all over the world. In particular, central place foragers, such as bees and ants, have become renowned for their fascinating navigational capabilities. At the heart of insect navigation lies a brain area known as the central complex (CX). Functionally, the CX integrates world-centric sensory information with self-motion cues to generate an internal map of angular position. It plays a role in driving motor commands and has been suggested as the neural substrate for encoding travel direction as well as navigational vectors theorized to be involved during path integration. Interestingly, the CX appears to have been highly anatomically conserved, even across insect species that diverged hundreds of millions of years ago. The conserved nature of the CX stands in juxtaposition to the fascinating diversity of insect behavior. How does a highly conserved brain area give rise to such diverse navigational behavior?

Using block-face electron microscopy combined with neuron segmentation and synapse annotation, I analyzed CX circuits in six species of bees and ants: the honeybee, the bumblebee (Paper 1), the sweat bee, the army ant, the desert ant, and the bull ant. Our data suggests that there are core circuits that have been exceptionally well preserved across evolutionary time. Namely, the head direction circuit (Paper 2) which contains neurons that share total numbers, projectivity, and connectivity motifs from flies to bees and ants. In contrast, inputs from sensory areas vary to a much larger degree. Our data suggests that the relative contribution of parallel input pathways depends strongly on the information available in the habitat of a species. Also variable are the circuits that encode self-motion, something which is fundamental for building navigationally relevant internal representations (Paper 3). Altogether, these neuroanatomical maps provide the framework for future functional and modeling studies that seek to understand how sensory information is transformed into behavioral decisions within the context of navigation.
Original languageEnglish
  • Heinze, Stanley, Supervisor
  • Narendra, Ajay, Supervisor, External person
  • Dacke, Marie, Supervisor
Award date2023 Feb 3
ISBN (Print)9789180394918
ISBN (electronic) 9789180394925
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Dec 14

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2023-02-03
Time: 10:00
Place: Blue Hall, Sölvegatan 37, Lund University
External reviewer(s)
Name: Cardona, Albert
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Biology, University of Cambridge, UK

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Other Biological Topics

Free keywords

  • central complex
  • connectome
  • path integration
  • bees
  • ants
  • neuroethology
  • neuroscience


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