The ontogeny of a mammalian cognitive map in the real world

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Science  10 Jul 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6500, pp. 194-197
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay3354

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Knowing their way around

The presence of a cognitive map is essential to our ability to navigate through areas we know because it facilitates the use of spatial knowledge to derive new routes. Whether such maps exist in nonhuman animals has been debated, largely because of the difficulty of demonstrating qualifying components of the map outside of a laboratory. In two studies on Egyptian fruit bats, Harten et al. and Toledo et al. together show that this species's navigational strategies meet the requirements for the use of a cognitive map of their environment, confirming that this skill occurs outside of humans (see the Perspective by Fenton).

Science, this issue p. 194, p. 188; see also p. 142


How animals navigate over large-scale environments remains a riddle. Specifically, it is debated whether animals have cognitive maps. The hallmark of map-based navigation is the ability to perform shortcuts, i.e., to move in direct but novel routes. When tracking an animal in the wild, it is extremely difficult to determine whether a movement is truly novel because the animal’s past movement is unknown. We overcame this difficulty by continuously tracking wild fruit bat pups from their very first flight outdoors and over the first months of their lives. Bats performed truly original shortcuts, supporting the hypothesis that they can perform large-scale map-based navigation. We documented how young pups developed their visual-based map, exemplifying the importance of exploration and demonstrating interindividual differences.

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