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Different effects of reward value and saliency during bumblebee visual search for multiple rewarding targets

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Vivek Nityananda



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Several animals, including bees, use visual search to distinguish targets of interest and ignore distractors. While bee flower choice is well studied, we know relatively little about how they choose between multiple rewarding flowers in complex floral environments. Two factors that could influence bee visual search for multiple flowers are the saliency (colour contrast against the background) and the reward value of flowers. We here investigated how these two different factors contribute to bee visual search. We trained bees to independently recognize two rewarding colours that, in different experiments, differed in either saliency, reward value or both. We then measured their choices and attention to these colours in the presence of distractors in a test without reinforcement. We found that bees preferred more salient or higher rewarding flowers and ignored distractors. When the high-reward flowers were less salient than the low-reward flowers, bees were nonetheless equally likely to choose high-reward flowers, for the reward and saliency values we used. Bees were also more likely to attend to these high-reward flowers, spending higher inspection times around them and exhibiting faster search times when choosing them. When flowers differed in reward, we also found an effect of the training order with low-reward targets being more likely to be chosen if they had been encountered during the more immediate training session prior to the test. Our results parallel recent findings from humans demonstrating that reward value can attract attention even when targets are less salient and irrelevant to the current task.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Nityananda V, Chittka L

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Animal Cognition

Year: 2021

Volume: 24

Pages: 803-814

Online publication date: 30/01/2021

Acceptance date: 13/01/2021

Date deposited: 26/01/2021

ISSN (print): 1435-9448

ISSN (electronic): 1435-9456

Publisher: Springer Nature


DOI: 10.1007/s10071-021-01479-3


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Funder referenceFunder name
BB/S009760/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)