Sussex Neuroscience

Professor Paul Graham

Dr Paul Graham

How do ants use vision for navigation? From sensory ecology to brain (Collaboration with Dr Jeremy Niven and Prof Andy Philippides)

Our aim is to examine the ways in which insects 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 and brain lesion studies with ants, designed to elucidate the sensori-motor processing that underpins navigation. Neuroethological projects like this also benefit from a computational and theoretical components to contextualise behavioural results. We analyse natural ant habitats to investigate “what the world looks like to an ant?” so that we can we can propose what information is available and what type of visual system would be optimal for extracting this information. We can relate these visual properties to the known neural anatomy of the insect visual system. Overall, projects in this area are interdisciplinary and can involve flexible combinations of behavioural and brain lesion experiments with computational analysis. Therefore the project will suit a student who is comfortable learning experimental and numerical methods.

Within Sussex Neuroscience we collaborate with computational neuroscientists and roboticists (Philippides and Nowotny) and are interested in future collaborations around Drosophila learning (Nowotny, Kemenes, Alonso).

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.