A speed-accuracy trade-off (SAT) in behavioural decisions is known to occur in a wide range of vertebrate and invertebrate taxa. Accurate decisions often take longer for a given condition, while fast decisions can be inaccurate in some tasks. Speed-accuracy tactics are known to vary consistently among individuals, and show a degree of flexibility during colour discrimination tasks in bees. Such individual flexibility in speed-accuracy tactics is likely to be advantageous for animals exposed to fluctuating environments, such as changes in predation threat. We therefore test whether individual speed-accuracy tactics are fixed or flexible under different levels of predation threat in a model invertebrate, the bumblebee Bombus terrestris. The flexibility of speed-accuracy tactics in a foraging context was tested in the laboratory using a "meadow" of artificial flowers harbouring "robotic" crab spider predators. We found that while the ranking of bees along the speed and accuracy continuums was consistent across two levels of predation threat, there was some flexibility in the tactics used by individual bees - most bees became less accurate at colour discrimination when exposed to predation threat when flower types were rewarding. The relationship between decision speed and accuracy was influenced by predator detectability and the risk associated with making incorrect choices during the colour discrimination task. Predator crypsis resulted in a breakdown in the relationship between speed and accuracy, especially when making an incorrect floral choice incurred a distasteful quinine punishment. No single speed-accuracy tactic was found to be optimal in terms of foraging efficiency under either predation threat situation. However, bees that made faster decisions achieved higher nectar collection rates in predator free situations, while accurate bees achieved higher foraging rates under predation threat. Our findings show that while individual bees remain relatively consistent in terms of whether they place greater emphasis on speed or accuracy under predation threat, they can respond flexibly to the additional time costs of detecting predators.
Keywords: Bombus terrestris; animal personality; predation risk; predator crypsis; speed-accuracy trade-offs.