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Proc Biol Sci. 2011 Dec 7;278(1724):3584-92. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.2746. Epub 2011 Apr 13.

Natural visual cues eliciting predator avoidance in fiddler crabs.

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ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science and Centre for Visual Sciences, Division of Evolution, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200, Australia.


To efficiently provide an animal with relevant information, the design of its visual system should reflect the distribution of natural signals and the animal's tasks. In many behavioural contexts, however, we know comparatively little about the moment-to-moment information-processing challenges animals face in their daily lives. In predator avoidance, for instance, we lack an accurate description of the natural signal stream and its value for risk assessment throughout the prey's defensive behaviour. We characterized the visual signals generated by real, potentially predatory events by video-recording bird approaches towards an Uca vomeris colony. Using four synchronized cameras allowed us to simultaneously monitor predator avoidance responses of crabs. We reconstructed the signals generated by dangerous and non-dangerous flying animals, identified the cues that triggered escape responses and compared them with those triggering responses to dummy predators. Fiddler crabs responded to a combination of multiple visual cues (including retinal speed, elevation and visual flicker) that reflect the visual signatures of distinct bird and insect behaviours. This allowed crabs to discriminate between dangerous and non-dangerous events. The results demonstrate the importance of measuring natural sensory signatures of biologically relevant events in order to understand biological information processing and its effects on behavioural organization.

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