Within the insect world, honeybees exhibit extraordinary navigational capabilities. Bees learn the structure of their environment and even if they are displaced over hundreds of meters (due to strong winds of curious researchers) they recognize landmarks and immediately know which way to go home.
A fascinating aspect of navigation is the waggle dance communication system with which foragers can direct nestmates to field locations. The waggle dance essentially communicates polar coordinates of field sites. After decoding a dance, honeybees have been shown to perform shortcut flights between known and dance-advertised sites over novel terrain, a behavior that indicates that geometrical relationship between location memories are represented in the bee brain.
However, analytical approaches to investigate the neural correlates face a technological dilemma: to this date, there is no lab-based protocol available to study all aspects of long-range navigation in flying honeybees, e.g. using virtual environments as shown in fruit flies). Recording units that can be carried by the honeybees themselves are not yet available.
In our project we follow both the synthetic and the analytic approach by implementing and testing computational neural models in silico and by developing a flying robotic platform for electrophysiological observations while the animal is navigating in the field.
Institute of Neurobiology, Free University Berlin
Prof. Dr. Dr. hc. Randolf Menzel, Benjamin Paffhausen
Institute of Neurobiology and Animal Physiology, University Cologne
Prof. Dr. Martin Nawrot
Biorobotics Lab, Institute of Computer Science, Free University Berlin
Prof. Dr. Tim Landgraf, Benjamin Wild, Julian Petrasch, Johannes Polster, Jurek Müller
The project is kindly funded by the Klaus-Tschira-Foundation (Landgraf/Menzel).