Altitude control in honeybees: joint vision-based learning and guidance

Abstract : Studies on insects’ visual guidance systems have shed little light on how learning contributes to insects’ altitude control system. In this study, honeybees were trained to fly along a double-roofed tunnel after entering it near either the ceiling or the floor of the tunnel. The honeybees trained to hug the ceiling therefore encountered a sudden change in the tunnel configuration midways: i.e. a "dorsal ditch". Thus, the trained honeybees met a sudden increase in the distance to the ceiling, corresponding to a sudden strong change in the visual cues available in their dorsal field of view. Honeybees reacted by rising quickly and hugging the new, higher ceiling, keeping a similar torward speed, distance to the ceiling and dorsal optic flow to those observed during the training step; whereas bees trained to follow the floor kept on following the floor regardless of the change in the ceiling height. When trained honeybees entered the tunnel via the other entry (the lower or upper entry) to that used during the training step, they quickly changed their altitude and hugged the surface they had previously learned to follow. These findings clearly show that trained honeybees control their altitude based on visual cues memorized during training. The memorized visual cues generated by the surfaces followed form a complex optic flow pattern: trained honeybees may attempt to match the visual cues they perceive with this memorized optic flow pattern by controlling their altitude.
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Geoffrey Portelli, Julien Serres, Franck Ruffier. Altitude control in honeybees: joint vision-based learning and guidance. Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, 2017, 7 (1), ⟨10.1038/s41598-017-09112-5⟩. ⟨hal-01644531⟩

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