Dr. Sarah Pfeffer


Locomotion and navigation are two closely interrelated fields and both are vital aspects within the life of the model organism Cataglyphis fortis. This species inhabits the hostile desert environments of North Africa, were a fast locomotion is a required feat in order to avoid becoming a victim to the prevailing heat and desiccation stress. To procure some food, desert ants may have to cover hundreds of meters, which equates several 10.000 times of their own body length. Once they have found a prey, the ants immediately head towards the home nest on the direct, shortcut way. Relocating the inconspicuous nest entrance, which is only a 2 cm hole in the desert floor, demands a remarkable capability of orientation. The predominant mechanism that ants apply is path integration, which is a form of vector navigation. However, the ants’ system of locomotion and navigation has to cope with the unpredictability of its environment.

The work of my PhD thesis concentrates on the ants’ flexible adaptations during walking and navigation. I focus on the influence of different walking speeds, changes in the walking direction and variations in the food supply. Field and laboratory methods are used to get an insight into the behavioral adaptability of desert ants. 






Dahmen H, Wahl VL, Pfeffer SE, Mallot HA, Wittlinger M (2017) Naturalistic path integration of Cataglyphis desert ants on an air-cushioned lightweight spherical treadmill. Journal of Experimental Biology 220 (4), 634-644. doi: 10.1242/jeb.148213

Pfeffer SE, Wittlinger M (2016) Optic flow odometry operates independently of stride integration in carried ants. Science 353 (6304), 1155-1157. doi: 10.1126/science.aaf9754.

Pfeffer SE, Wahl VL, Wittlinger M (2016) How to find home backwards? Locomotion and inter-leg coordination during rearward walking of Cataglyphis fortis desert ants. Journal of Experimental Biology 219 (14), 2110-2118. doi: 10.1242/jeb.137778.

Pfeffer SE, Wittlinger M (2016) How to find home backwards? Navigation during rearward homing of Cataglyphis fortis desert ants. Journal of Experimental Biology 219 (14), 2119-2126. doi: 10.1242/jeb.137786.

Pfeffer SE, Bolek S, Wolf H, Wittlinger M (2015) Nest and food search behaviour in desert ants, Cataglyphis: a critical comparison. Animal cognition. 18 (4), 885-894. doi: 10.1007/s10071-015-0858-0

Wahl V, Pfeffer SE, Wittlinger M (2015) Walking and running in the desert ant Cataglyphis fortis. Journal of Comparative Physiology. 201 (6), 645-656 A. doi: 10.1007/s00359-015-0999-2

Conference contributions

Pfeffer SE, Wittlinger M (2016) How to find home backwards? Stepping coordination and navigation during rearward homing in the desert ant Cataglyphis fortis – 12th International Congress of Neuroethology (ICN), 30.3.-03.04.2016, Montevideo, Uruguay 

Wahl VL, Dahmen H, Pfeffer SE, Wittlinger M (2016) Virtual navigation in Cataglyphis desert ants - path integration on an air suspended spherical treadmill. - 12th International Congress of Neurotehtology (ICN), 30.3.-03.04.2016, Montevideo, Uruguay 

Pfeffer SE, Wittlinger M (2015) How to find home backwards? Reverse walking in Cataglyphis fortis desert ants -11th Göttingen Meeting of the German Neuroscience Society, 18.-21. März 2015, Göttingen, Germany

Pfeffer SE, Wittlinger M (2015) Temporal resolution of Cataglyphis ants: visual system at different temperatures during light/dark adaptation - Insect Vision: Cells, Computation, and Behavior, 19.-22.April 2015, Conference on Janelia Research Campus, Virginia, USA

September 2013, DZG-Tagung München, 106. Jahrestagung der Deutschen Zoologischen Gesellschaft, LMU München


  • Dr. Sarah Pfeffer
  • Room: M25/5215
  • Phone: +49 (0) 731-50-22687
  • Fax: +49 (0) 731-50-22629