A panoramic virtual reality system for visual navigation studies in solitary foraging ants
thesisposted on 2022-03-29, 00:53 authored by Cody A. Freas
Solitary foraging ant species can employ an array of navigational tools to successfully return to the nest from foraging trips, including path integration and vision-based navigation. Species inhabiting cluttered environments that are visually rich, like Melophorus bagoti and multiple Myrmecia species, rely heavily on cues from these visual landmarks and the surrounding panorama. Additionally, these ant species can utilise the sky compass to orient by detecting both the sun’s position and the sky’s UV and polarised light gradients. Multiple characteristics of landmarks, the surrounding panorama and the sky compass cannot be realistically manipulated in the natural environment but can be readily manipulated by using a virtual reality (VR) environment under laboratory conditions. Here we present a novel virtual reality system that projects a visual panorama using commercially available projectors. This system provides a 300° visual panorama and includes a spherical treadmill system to record the individual’s movement and orientation. We present a thorough description of the virtual reality system and demonstrate the system’s performance by comparing the orientation in the virtual reality system and the natural environment. Individuals in virtual reality conditions did not orient towards the nest, suggesting the VR system is missing some crucial component for navigation.