Evidence for the effect of brief exposure to food, but not learning interference, on maze solving in desert ants

Tomer Gilad, Arik Dorfman, Aziz Subach, Romain Libbrecht, Susanne Foitzik, Inon Scharf*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Theories of forgetting highlight 2 active mechanisms through which animals forget prior knowledge by reciprocal disruption of memories. According to “proactive interference,” information learned previously interferes with the acquisition of new information, whereas “retroactive interference” suggests that newly gathered information interferes with already existing information. Our goal was to examine the possible effect of both mechanisms in the desert ant Cataglyphis niger, which does not use pheromone recruitment, when learning spatial information while searching for food in a maze. Our experiment indicated that neither proactive nor retroactive interference took place in this system although this awaits confirmation with individual-level learning assays. Rather, the ants’ persistence or readiness to search for food grew with successive runs in the maze. Elevated persistence led to more ant workers arriving at the food when retested a day later, even if the maze was shifted between runs. We support this finding in a second experiment, where ant workers reached the food reward at the maze end in higher numbers after encountering food in the maze entry compared to a treatment, in which food was present only at the maze end. This result suggests that spatial learning and search persistence are 2 parallel behavioral mechanisms, both assisting foraging ants. We suggest that their relative contribution should depend on habitat complexity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)704-714
Number of pages11
JournalIntegrative Zoology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2022


FundersFunder number
Deutsche ForschungsgemeinschaftFO 298/31‐1


    • binary-tree maze
    • desert ants
    • forgetting
    • memory
    • motivation


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