Navigating in a challenging semiarid environment: the use of a route-based mental map by a small-bodied neotropical primate

Filipa Abreu, Paul A. Garber, Antonio Souto, Andrea Presotto, Nicola Schiel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To increase efficiency in the search for resources, many animals rely on their spatial abilities. Specifically, primates have been reported to use mostly topological and rarely Euclidean maps when navigating in large-scale space. Here, we aimed to investigate if the navigation of wild common marmosets inhabiting a semiarid environment is consistent with a topological representation and how environmental factors affect navigation. We collected 497 h of direct behavioral and GPS information on a group of marmosets using a 2-min instantaneous focal animal sampling technique. We found that our study group reused not only long-route segments (mean of 1007 m) but entire daily routes, a pattern that is not commonly seen in primates. The most frequently reused route segments were the ones closer to feeding sites, distant to resting sites, and in areas sparse in tree vegetation. We also identified a total of 56 clustered direction change points indicating that the group modified their direction of travel. These changes in direction were influenced by their close proximity to resting and feeding sites. Despite our small sample size, the obtained results are important and consistent with the contention that common marmosets navigate using a topological map that seems to benefit these animals in response to the exploitation of clustered exudate trees. Based on our findings, we hypothesize that the Caatinga landscape imposes physical restrictions in our group’s navigation such as gaps in vegetation, small trees and xerophytic plants. This study, based on preliminary evidence, raises the question of whether navigation patterns are an intrinsic characteristic of a species or are ecologically dependent and change according to the environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)629-643
Number of pages15
JournalAnimal cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Animal movement
  • Callithrix jacchus
  • Change-point test
  • Cognitive maps
  • Route network
  • Spatial cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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