Fundamental to animal orientation is an ability to start at a fixed point, visit several locations, and return directly to the original point. To accomplish path integration, the animal simply computes its return distance and direction vector from the vectors joining the locations on its route. This saves retracing steps. While a variety of animals have been shown to be able to path integrate reasonably accurately in the absence of landmarks or other cues, long-distance orientation using path integration usually incorporates corrections from landmarks or celestial cues.
Figure 1. Path integration over three stops. The animal changes direction at each stop, and distances among the stops vary. The distance and direction information is integrated to allow the animal to return directly to the starting place.
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copyright ©2001 Michael D. Breed, all rights reserved