Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Insect Homing: Mechanisms and Models

Date: August 31 - September 2, 2011

Convenors: Martin Egelhaaf (Bielefeld), Norbert Boeddeker (Bielefeld), Laura Dittmar (Bielefeld), Wolfgang Stürzl (Bielefeld)

This workshop brought for the first time together a group of researchers from the fields of insect homing and the theory of insect-inspired navigation mechanisms. Autonomous navigation in a complex cluttered world is a complex task, which is mastered—with seemingly little effort—by many insect species, which memorise important places: Bees, wasps and ants navigate successfully over often large distances between feeding sites and their nest, despite the small size of their brains which contain less than a million neurons.

The goal of the workshop was to discuss the power of contemporary ideas on the mechanisms that insects use for navigation and spatial cognition and to identify new interdisciplinary approaches that will eventually lead to a comprehensive understanding of insect homing. Another task of the workshop was to distinguish those navigation mechanisms that might be implemented in artificial systems, such as robots.

Apart from lectures, which provided an overview on the current topics in the field of research, also group discussions comprised the workshop. Two discussion panels held with all participants reflected the great interest on two core topics. Under the title Features vs images the first discussion focused on evidence for the idea that insects store and use panoramic images for homing and how landmarks play a role for view-based homing. The participants debated about those components of natural scenes that are stored and used for navigation and discussed whether feature detection should be taken more seriously in place learning. The second panel discussion was on the neural substrate of insect navigational abilities. One important aspect here was whether and how recent findings on the neural substrate of spatial learning in the fruit fly Drosophila apply to ants, bees and wasps. This lead to a discussion about which brain areas are involved in which aspects of insect homing, greatly benefiting from the expertise provided by experts on insect neuroanatomy and -physiology amongst the participants. Three more smaller discussion groups discussed in parallel about solutions of specific and potentially controversial problems, like the role of comparative studies, the interaction between multimodal cues and strategies, and the relationship between visual scene encoding and route navigation. The format of the workshop i.e. the mixture between classical lectures and discussion panels fostered the fruitful exchange of ideas between the participants across their different fields of expertise. This is certainly one motive for the want to meet again for a follow up meeting in about two years, which was expressed by the participants in the closing session of the workshop.


Bart Baddeley (Brighton), Cornelia Bühlmann (Jena), Nicole Carey (Bielefeld), Allen Cheung (Brisbane), Matthew Collett (Exeter), Thomas Collett (Brighton), TJ Florence (Ashburn, VA), Paul Graham (Brighton), Natalie Hempel de Ibarra (Exeter), Uwe Homberg (Marburg), Markus Knaden (Jena), David D. Lent (Brighton), Mathieu Lihoreau (Sydney), Hanspeter A. Mallot (Tübingen), Michael Mangan (Edinburgh), Marcel Mertes (Bielefeld), Ralf Möller (Bielefeld), Ajay Narendra (Canberra), Thomas Nørgaard (Lund), Andy Philippides (Brighton), Lena Riabinia (London), Ronny Rosner (Marburg), Wolfgang Rössler (Würzburg), Sara Mae Stieb (Würzburg), Andrew Vardy (Newfoundland), Barbara Webb (Edinburgh), Antoine Wystrach (Toulouse), Jochen Zeil (Canberra)

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