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Behavioural and neural responses of crabs show evidence for selective attention in predator avoidance

Bagheri, Z.M., Donohue, C.G., Partridge, J.C. and Hemmi, J.M. (2022) Behavioural and neural responses of crabs show evidence for selective attention in predator avoidance. Scientific Reports, 12 (1). Art. 10022.

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Selective attention, the ability to focus on a specific stimulus and suppress distractions, plays a fundamental role for animals in many contexts, such as mating, feeding, and predation. Within natural environments, animals are often confronted with multiple stimuli of potential importance. Such a situation significantly complicates the decision-making process and imposes conflicting information on neural systems. In the context of predation, selectively attending to one of multiple threats is one possible solution. However, how animals make such escape decisions is rarely studied. A previous field study on the fiddler crab, Gelasimus dampieri, provided evidence of selective attention in the context of escape decisions. To identify the underlying mechanisms that guide their escape decisions, we measured the crabs’ behavioural and neural responses to either a single, or two simultaneously approaching looming stimuli. The two stimuli were either identical or differed in contrast to represent different levels of threat certainty. Although our behavioural data provides some evidence that crabs perceive signals from both stimuli, we show that both the crabs and their looming-sensitive neurons almost exclusively respond to only one of two simultaneous threats. The crabs’ body orientation played an important role in their decision about which stimulus to run away from. When faced with two stimuli of differing contrasts, both neurons and crabs were much more likely to respond to the stimulus with the higher contrast. Our data provides evidence that the crabs’ looming-sensitive neurons play an important part in the mechanism that drives their selective attention in the context of predation. Our results support previous suggestions that the crabs’ escape direction is calculated downstream of their looming-sensitive neurons by means of a population vector of the looming sensitive neuronal ensemble.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Harry Butler Institute
Publisher: Springer Nature
Copyright: © 2022 The Authors.
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