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      Antennal-Lobe Organization in Desert Ants of the Genus Cataglyphis


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          Desert ants of the genus Cataglyphis possess remarkable visual navigation capabilities. Although Cataglyphis species lack a trail pheromone system, Cataglyphis fortis employs olfactory cues for detecting nest and food sites. To investigate potential adaptations in primary olfactory centers of the brain of C. fortis, we analyzed olfactory glomeruli (odor processing units) in their antennal lobes and compared them to glomeruli in different Cataglyphis species. Using confocal imaging and 3D reconstruction, we analyzed the number, size and spatial arrangement of olfactory glomeruli in C. fortis, C. albicans, C. bicolor, C. rubra, and C. noda. Workers of all Cataglyphis species have smaller numbers of glomeruli (198–249) compared to those previously found in olfactory-guided ants. Analyses in 2 species of Formica – a genus closely related to Cataglyphis – revealed substantially higher numbers of olfactory glomeruli (c. 370), which is likely to reflect the importance of olfaction in these wood ant species. Comparisons between Cataglyphis species revealed 2 special features in C. fortis. First, with c. 198 C. fortis has the lowest number of glomeruli compared to all other species. Second, a conspicuously enlarged glomerulus is located close to the antennal nerve entrance. Males of C. fortis possess a significantly smaller number of glomeruli (c. 150) compared to female workers and queens. A prominent male-specific macroglomerulus likely to be involved in sex pheromone communication occupies a position different from that of the enlarged glomerulus in females. The behavioral significance of the enlarged glomerulus in female workers remains elusive. The fact that C. fortis inhabits microhabitats (salt pans) that are avoided by all other Cataglyphis species suggests that extreme ecological conditions may not only have resulted in adaptations of visual capabilities, but also in specializations of the olfactory system.

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          Most cited references 52

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          Mechanisms of olfactory discrimination: converging evidence for common principles across phyla.

          Olfaction begins with the transduction of the information carried by odor molecules into electrical signals in sensory neurons. The activation of different subsets of sensory neurons to different degrees is the basis for neural encoding and further processing of the odor information by higher centers in the olfactory pathway. Recent evidence has converged on a set of transduction mechanisms, involving G-protein-coupled second-messenger systems, and neural processing mechanisms, involving modules called glomeruli, that appear to be adapted for the requirements of different species. The evidence is highlighted in this review by focusing on studies in selected vertebrates and in insects and crustaceans among invertebrates. The findings support the hypothesis that olfactory transduction and neural processing in the peripheral olfactory pathway involve basic mechanisms that are universal across most species in most phyla.
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            Desert ant navigation: how miniature brains solve complex tasks.

            This essay presents and discusses the state of the art in studies of desert ant (Cataglyphis) navigation. In dealing with behavioural performances, neural mechanisms, and ecological functions these studies ultimately aim at an evolutionary understanding of the insect's navigational toolkit: its skylight (polarization) compass, its path integrator, its view-dependent ways of recognizing places and following landmark routes, and its strategies of flexibly interlinking these modes of navigation to generate amazingly rich behavioural outputs. The general message is that Cataglyphis uses path integration as an egocentric guideline to acquire continually updated spatial information about places and routes. Hence, it relies on procedural knowledge, and largely context-dependent retrieval of such knowledge, rather than on all-embracing geocentred representations of space.
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              The ant odometer: stepping on stilts and stumps.

              Desert ants, Cataglyphis, navigate in their vast desert habitat by path integration. They continuously integrate directions steered (as determined by their celestial compass) and distances traveled, gauged by as-yet-unknown mechanisms. Here we test the hypothesis that navigating ants measure distances traveled by using some kind of step integrator, or "step counter." We manipulated the lengths of the legs and, hence, the stride lengths, in freely walking ants. Animals with elongated ("stilts") or shortened legs ("stumps") take larger or shorter strides, respectively, and concomitantly misgauge travel distance. Travel distance is overestimated by experimental animals walking on stilts and underestimated by animals walking on stumps.

                Author and article information

                Brain Behav Evol
                Brain, Behavior and Evolution
                S. Karger AG
                June 2011
                19 April 2011
                : 77
                : 3
                : 136-146
                aDepartment of Behavioral Physiology and Sociobiology, Biocenter, University of Würzburg, Würzburg, Germany; bBrain Research Institute, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
                Author notes
                *Sara Mae Stieb, Biocenter, Behavioral Physiology and Sociobiology, Zoology II, University of Würzburg, Am Hubland, DE–97074 Würzburg (Germany), Tel. +49 931 318 9581, E-Mail sara-mae.stieb@biozentrum.uni-wuerzburg.de
                326211 Brain Behav Evol 2011;77:136–146
                © 2011 S. Karger AG, Basel

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                Page count
                Figures: 4, Tables: 1, Pages: 11
                Original Paper


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