Sussex Neuroscience

Dr Paul Graham

Dr Paul Graham

How do ants use vision for navigation? (Project co-supervised by Dr Andy Philippides)

Our aim is to examine the ways in which ants use, encode and recognise natural visual scenes. Despite its importance for all spatial behaviour, little is known about how any animal encodes and identifies natural visual scenes. Insects with their low resolution eyes and small brains are likely to have efficient ways of encoding scenes that can be investigated through their stereotyped viewing strategies. Our approach involves behavioural studies with ants, designed to elucidate the visual processing and computational steps that underpin ant navigation. Neuroethological projects like this also require a strong computational and theoretical component to contextualise behavioural results. We propose a project that begins by analysing natural ant habitats to investigate “what the world looks like to an ant?” we will then reconstruct similar scenes in the lab and train ants to find food in a direction defined by the visual scene. By testing ants with deconstructed versions of the natural scenes we can systematically investigate which components were important for visual navigation. The result will be a list of visual properties that we can relate to the known neural anatomy of the insect visual system. Overall, the project will involve behavioural experiments, computational analysis of fine-grained behavioural data in Matlab, and some mathematical analysis of natural images. Therefore the project will suit a student who is comfortable learning some programming and numerical methods.

Selected publications

(For full list of publications and more details about the Insect Navigation Group, please visit:

Lent DD, Graham P, Collett TS (2013) Visual Scene Perception in Navigating Wood Ants. Current Biology, 23, 684-690.

Wystrach A and Graham P (2012) What can we learn from studies of insect navigation? Animal Behaviour,  doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2012.04.017

Baddeley B, Graham P, Philippides A and Husbands P (2012) A Model of Ant Route Navigation Driven by Scene Familiarity. PLoS Computational Biology 8(1): e1002336.

Graham, P and Cheng, K (2009) Ants use the panoramic skyline as a visual cue during navigation. Current Biology 19.20 (2009): R935-R937.