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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Spatial Learning in Dragonflies


Spatial learning is evident in dragonflies on a variety of spatial scales. Mature dragonflies must be able to locate a variety of features in the habitat that are critical to survival and reproduction, including sites for breeding, foraging, roosting, and thermoregulating. In many species, these sites do not coincide in space. Because individuals may repeatedly use particular sites for different activities, they must learn both the locations of these sites and routes among them. Further evidence of spatial memory in dragonflies is provided by their site specificity on a finer scale. Breeding males, for example, often are faithful not only to a particular area, but to a specific territory site within that area. Males appear to become faithful to a territory site through localization, a process during which they explore the site and develop a spatial map of the location of the territory and its resources. Males also respond to their interactions with other individuals, adjusting both their choice of territories and their space use within their territories to reflect those interactions. In eastern amberwing dragonflies ( Perithemis tenera ), males are not faithful to territories on which they have lost a fight with another male; in contrast, males are more likely to be faithful to territories on which they successfully mated than to territories on which they obtained no matings. Similarly, while on territories, male amberwings adjust their position in response to negative and positive interactions. They move away from the side of the territory from which neighbors most frequently intruded, and they move toward locations from which they pursued a female. Territorial amberwings thus modify their space use at both the territory and within-territory spatial scale in response to their social environment. Their responses are consistent with the hypothesis that they learn from their positive and negative experiences and adjust their future space use accordingly. Further study of spatial learning in dragonflies would greatly enhance studies of dragonflies’ behavior and ecology, and help us understand learning in general.

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