Animals use odors in many natural contexts, for example, for finding mates or food, or signaling danger. Most analyses of natural odors search for either the most meaningful components of a natural odor mixture, or they use linear metrics to analyze the mixture compositions. However, we have recently shown that the physical space for complex mixtures is ‘hyperbolic’, meaning that there are certain combinations of variables that have a disproportionately large impact on perception and that these variables have specific interpretations in terms of metabolic processes taking place inside the flower and fruit that produce the odors. Here we show that the statistics of odorants and odorant mixtures produced by inflorescences (Brassica rapa) are also better described with a hyperbolic rather than a linear metric, and that combinations of odorants in the hyperbolic space are better predictors of the nectar and pollen resources sought by bee pollinators than the standard Euclidian combinations. We also show that honey bee and bumble bee antennae can detect most components of the B. rapa odor space that we tested, and the strength of responses correlates with positions of odorants in the hyperbolic space. In sum, a hyperbolic representation can be used to guide investigation of how information is represented at different levels of processing in the CNS.
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