Multimodal cue integration in the dung beetle compass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

South African ball-rolling dung beetles exhibit a unique orientation behavior to avoid competition for food: after forming a piece of dung into a ball, they efficiently escape with it from the dung pile along a straight-line path. To keep track of their heading, these animals use celestial cues, such as the sun, as an orientation reference. Here we show that wind can also be used as a guiding cue for the ball-rolling beetles. We demonstrate that this mechanosensory compass cue is only used when skylight cues are difficult to read, i.e., when the sun is close to the zenith. This raises the question of how the beetles combine multimodal orientation input to obtain a robust heading estimate. To study this, we performed behavioral experiments in a tightly controlled indoor arena. This revealed that the beetles register directional information provided by the sun and the wind and can use them in a weighted manner. Moreover, the directional information can be transferred between these 2 sensory modalities, suggesting that they are combined in the spatial memory network in the beetle’s brain. This flexible use of compass cue preferences relative to the prevailing visual and mechanosensory scenery provides a simple, yet effective, mechanism for enabling precise compass orientation at any time of the day.

Details

Authors
Organisations
External organisations
  • University of the Witwatersrand
  • Stockholm University
  • Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Zoology

Keywords

  • Insect, Navigation, Sun, Vision, Wind
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14248-14253
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume116
Issue number28
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jul 9
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes