Trust your gut: using physiological states as a source of information is almost as effective as optimal Bayesian learning
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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Currently under an indefinite embargo pending publication by the Royal Society. No embargo required on publication
Approaches to understanding adaptive behaviour often assume that animals have perfect information about environmental conditions or are capable of sophisticated learning. If such learning abilities are costly, however, natural selection will favour simpler mechanisms for controlling behaviour when faced with uncertain conditions. Here we show that, in a foraging context, a strategy based only on current energy reserves often performs almost as well as a Bayesian learning strategy that integrates all previous experiences to form an optimal estimate of environmental conditions. We find that Bayesian learning gives a strong advantage only if fluctuations in the food supply are very strong and reasonably frequent. The performance of both the Bayesian and the reserve-based strategy are more robust to inaccurate knowledge of the temporal pattern of environmental conditions than a strategy that has perfect knowledge about current conditions. Studies assuming Bayesian learning are often accused of being unrealistic; our results suggest that animals can achieve a similar level of performance to Bayesians using much simpler mechanisms based on their physiological state. More broadly, our work suggests that the ability to use internal states as a source of information about recent environmental conditions will have weakened selection for sophisticated learning and decision-making systems.
This work was supported by the European Research Council (Advanced Grant 250209 to A.I.H) and a NERC Independent Research Fellowship (NE/L011921/1) awarded to A.D.H.
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