Modality-specific attention in foraging bumblebees.
150324 - ?
R Soc Open Sci
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Attentional demands can prevent humans and other animals from performing multiple tasks simultaneously. Some studies, however, show that tasks presented in different sensory modalities (e.g. visual and auditory) can be processed simultaneously. This suggests that, at least in these cases, attention might be modality-specific and divided differently between tasks when present in the same modality compared with different modalities. We investigated this possibility in bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) using a biologically relevant experimental set-up where they had to simultaneously choose more rewarding flowers and avoid simulated predatory attacks by robotic 'spiders'. We found that when the tasks had to be performed using visual cues alone, bees failed to perform both tasks simultaneously. However, when highly rewarding flowers were indicated by olfactory cues and predators were indicated by visual cues, bees managed to perform both tasks successfully. Our results thus provide evidence for modality-specific attention in foraging bees and establish a novel framework for future studies of crossmodal attention in ecologically realistic settings.