Visual search and the importance of time in complex decision making by bees

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Psychophysicists studying decision making in animals have overwhelmingly focused on choice accuracy, not speed. Results from human visual search, however, show that there might be a tight link between the two. Here we review both visual-sensory and cognitive mechanisms that affect decision speed in flower visiting bees. We show that decision times are affected by contrast of targets and background, by similarity between targets and distractors, numbers of distractors present in a scene, illuminating light intensity, presence or absence of punishment, and complexity of tasks. We explore between-individual and within-individual speed-accuracy tradeoffs, and show that bees resort to highly dynamic strategies when solving visual search tasks. Where possible, we attempt to link the observed search behaviour to the temporal and spatial properties of neuronal circuits underlying visual object detection. We demonstrate that natural foraging speed may not only be limited by factors such as food item density, flight energetics and scramble competition, as often implied. Our results show that understanding the behavioural ecology of foraging can substantially gain from knowledge about mechanisms of visual information processing.

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