Given that all interactions between an animal and its environment are mediated by movement, questions of how animals inherit, refine and execute trajectories through space are fundamental to our understanding of biology. As with any behavioural trait, navigation can be thought of on many conceptual levels – from the mechanistic to the functional, and from the static to the dynamic – as laid out by Niko Tinbergen in his four questions of animal behaviour. Here, we use a navigation-centric interpretation of Tinbergen's questions to summarise and critique advances in the field of animal navigation. We discuss the ‘state of the art’; consider how a proximal/mechanistic understanding of navigation is not a prerequisite to understanding ultimate questions of evolutionary/adaptive importance; propose that certain aspects of animal navigation research – and certain taxa – are being neglected; and suggest that extreme experimental manipulations might lead to the mischaracterisation of non-adaptive ‘spandrels’ as functional navigational mechanisms. More generally, we highlight pressing questions within the field, the answers to which we believe are within reach, and highlight the important role that novel methods will have in helping us elucidate them.

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