Washington (US), July 15 (ANI): Bees must balance effort, risk and reward when making decisions quickly and accurately from the flowers that feed their hives. According to a recent study published in the journal eLife, bees have evolved over millions of years to make quick decisions and limit danger.
The study of insect brains, how our own brains evolved, and how we can design better robots is improving.
The paper presents a model of decision-making in bees and outlines the pathways in their brains that enable rapid decision-making. Professor Andrew Barron of Macquarie University, Sydney, and Dr. The study was led by Hadi Maboodi, Neville Dearden and Professor James Marshall.
“Decision-making is at the heart of knowledge,” says Professor Barron. “This is the result of evaluating possible outcomes. Animal life is full of decisions. A bee has a smaller brain than a sesame. Yet she can make decisions faster and more accurately than we can. A robot is programmed to do that. A bee’s job requires the backup of a supercomputer.
“Today’s autonomous robots operate with the support of remote computing,” continues Professor Barron. “Drones are relatively unintelligent and must be in wireless communication with a data center. This technology path will never allow a drone to explore Mars solo – NASA’s amazing rovers on Mars have traveled about 75 kilometers over the years.”
Bees need to work quickly and efficiently while avoiding predators, finding nectar and bringing it back to the hive. They have to make decisions. Which flower has nectar? When they fly, they are only vulnerable to aerial attack. When descending to feed, they become prey for spiders and other predators, some of which use camouflage to look like flowers.
“We trained 20 bees to recognize ‘flower discs’ of five different colours. Blue flowers always had sugar syrup,” says Dr Maboodi. “Green flowers always contained quinine (tonic water), which tasted bitter to bees. Other colors sometimes contained glucose.”
“We then introduced each bee to a garden where we filmed the ‘flowers’ with distilled water. We filmed each bee and then watched over 40 hours of video, tracking the path of the bees and how long it took them to make their decision.
“When bees are certain that a flower will contain food, they quickly decide to land on it (taking an average of 0.6 seconds),” says Dr. Maboodi. “If they’re sure a flower doesn’t have food, they make a quick decision.”
If they were unsure, they took longer – 1.4 seconds on average – time reflecting the likelihood that a flower would receive food.
The team then built a computer model from first principles that aimed to replicate the bees’ decision-making process. They found that the structure of their computer model closely resembled the physical layout of a bee’s brain.
“Our study has demonstrated complex autonomous decision-making using minimal neural circuitry,” says Professor Marshall. “Now that we know how bees make such smart decisions, we’re learning how they’re so fast at collecting and sampling information. We think bees use their flight movements to improve their visual system to get better at finding the best flowers.” (ANI)